2013 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Citadel at Georgia Southern, to be played in Statesboro, Georgia, at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 12. 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 and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Georgia Southern game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Jeff Monken on the SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show

“Scouting Report” from The Post and Courier

A good article about a Bulldog football player (Terrance Martin), even more so because it actually doesn’t mention that he plays football

A profile of Justin Oxendine

My brief review of the Appalachian State game

A few more thoughts on the game against the Mountaineers:

– Time of possession doesn’t always tell the story. In the first quarter, The Citadel held the ball for almost 11 1/2 minutes but was outscored 7-0. In the third quarter, Appalachian State had possession for 10 1/2 minutes — and was outscored by the Bulldogs in that period, 7-0.

– Of The Citadel’s four scoring drives in regulation, three took less than 2:40 off the clock.

– The Citadel threw ten passes during the game. Four different players tossed the pigskin for the Bulldogs, resulting in an unusual passes-to-passer ratio.

– The Bulldogs actually threw more passes in the first half (5) than did Appalachian State (4).

– Each team had eleven possessions during regulation; four in the first half, and seven in the second half. Part of the reason the Mountaineers only attempted four passes in the first half had to do with the lack of possessions.

Appalachian State elected to run out the clock with a minute remaining in the first half (somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me). Thus, the Mountaineers only had three drives in which they attempted to score.

Given that Appalachian State did score 14 points in those three possessions, I’m not sure App head coach Scott Satterfield can be faulted for his offensive game plan, odd though it may have appeared to outside observers. The Mountaineers’ approach also surprised Kevin Higgins.

– Having said that, I was puzzled Sean Price wasn’t targeted more by the team from Boone. I believe it may speak to a lack of confidence in quarterback/line play, or perhaps a desire to avoid a time of possession differential like Appalachian State faced in its previous game against Charleston Southern.

– Satterfield made two calls which I thought were good decisions, but got burned both times.

Trailing 7-0, The Citadel picked up seven yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up fourth-and-two on the App 44. However, a five-yard penalty on the Bulldogs gave Satterfield the option of moving The Citadel back and forcing a long third down play.

Satterfield took the penalty (rightly so, I think), but then Ben Dupree proceeded to complete a pass to Matt Thompson for seventeen yards and a first down. The Citadel went on to tie the game on that possession.

Then, on Appalachian State’s drive to open the third quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with 4th-and-1 on The Citadel’s 40-yard line. The drive had already lasted for twelve plays. Satterfield elected to go for it.

In my opinion, that was the right move, but Mitchell Jeter and several of his friends stuffed backup running back Ricky Fergerson for no gain. Two plays later, Ben Dupree scored on a 53-yard run, juking his way past several App defenders (but not needing to evade the Mountaineer who got run over by Jake Stenson).

– Four times this century, The Citadel has won a contest it was tied or trailing by making a field goal inside the last 90 seconds of the game/OT. Thomas Warren has been the kicker of record on two of those occasions. The first of his game-winners, of course, came last year against Georgia Southern.

When the Bulldogs met the Eagles last year, the historical record was not in the home team’s favor. Not only had The Citadel failed to beat a ranked opponent since 1997, the Bulldogs had not won a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium against a SoCon opponent since switching to the triple option offense.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes.

This year, Georgia Southern is ranked in The Sports Network’s poll, but not in the more or less “official” poll for the FCS, the coaches’ poll that is administered by the Southern Conference. That’s because, of course, GSU is ineligible for the FCS playoffs due to its transition to FBS. Next year, the Eagles will begin play in the Sun Belt.

This won’t be the last meeting between the two programs, however. The Citadel will travel to Statesboro in 2015 in what will be a non-conference matchup, with the visiting Bulldogs receiving $175,000 for their presence at Paulson Stadium.

The Citadel is also scheduled to face South Carolina that season. In effect GSU will serve as a replacement for East Tennessee State (which won’t begin SoCon play until 2016), only it won’t be a league game and The Citadel will add some much-needed cash to the military college’s coffers.

The fact that Georgia Southern was declared ineligible for the Southern Conference title this season clearly bothered some people in the GSU community. One of them was head coach Jeff Monken. In July, he had this to say:

We do get to play the eight Southern Conference teams. We have yet to go 8-0 in the Southern Conference. That’s been one of our goals. It would be hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champions if we go 8-0 in the league.

He continued the theme in an “open letter” to his fan base in August:

This senior class has the goal of winning another Southern Conference championship, whether anyone else will recognize it or not. To go 8-0 in the SoCon would make a statement about this football team and this program…

The “whether anyone else will recognize it or not” part of that statement got some play, as did the “hard to argue we’re not Southern Conference champs” line from the month before. By September 14, however, the argument was moot.

That was the day the Eagles played their league opener, which turned out to be a 30-20 loss to Wofford in Spartanburg. Just like that, all the talk about running the SoCon table was over.

Perhaps more people should have seen it coming. From that July article:

…the Eagles were dogged by injuries during spring practice, so much so that the traditional Blue-White spring game was turned into an ordinary scrimmage. Senior slotback Robert Brown was forced to give up football because of injuries, and linebacker Patrick Flowe will miss the season after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament.

“We had 28 guys in red jerseys,” lamented Monken, referring to the red jerseys Eagles players when they are being held out of practice for medical reasons.

The injury situation has been a major story in Statesboro. Monken discussed it during this week’s SoCon media teleconference:

We are flat struggling right now with injuries…we’ve got twenty scholarship players, not including the redshirt guys…[that were] out for the game [against Samford]…we’ve got a lot of guys starting and a lot of guys playing significant snaps who’ve never played or don’t play a lot…hopefully we’re going to get some of those guys healthy [for the game against The Citadel].

Monken specifically mentioned the running back position as a trouble spot. GSU lost Robert Brown before the season started. Dominique Swope, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in both 2011 and 2012, suffered a torn labrum and is now done for the year. Two other Eagle running backs are also apparently out for the season due to injury.

The running back situation has led to Jerick McKinnon playing in a wide variety of positions, as Monken has tried to get his best athletes on the field. McKinnon has at times shifted from quarterback (his regular position since midway through last season) to slotback, wide receiver, B-back, kick returner, ticket taker…anywhere and everywhere.

McKinnon rushed for 1817 yards last season for the Eagles. Georgia Southern had 63 offensive plays in 2012 that went for 25+ yards; McKinnon was responsible for 30 of them (17 rushing, 13 passing). In a playoff game against Central Arkansas, he rushed for 316 yards.

This year, McKinnon has struggled as a passer. In three SoCon games, he is 1-9 for 16 yards (with one interception). Against Chattanooga, the Eagles only attempted two passes, completing neither.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Ellison has been the quarterback when McKinnon has moved to other positions, getting the start at QB when the Eagles played Wofford. Ellison is completing almost 63% of his passes for the season, averaging 12.1 yards per attempt. He can run the ball a little bit, too (6.2 yards per carry).

Ellison was 7-7 throwing the ball against Samford, for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He was 6-14 versus Wofford (68 yards, with a pick) and only attempted one pass against UTC.

William Banks, a redshirt senior, started at B-back in the Samford game and rushed for 51 yards on 10 carries. Banks, McKinnon (181 yards), and Ellison got the bulk of the work in that contest, as the other GSU players carried the ball a total of six times for nine yards.

GSU had to replace both of its starting wideouts from last season. The o-line, however, features three of last year’s starters, although tackle Garrett Frye has been flipped from LT to RT (and then back to LT) this season due to injuries elsewhere.

Georgia Southern has fumbled fifteen times this season, but somehow has only lost three of them. “Fumble luck” has worked both ways, as the Eagles have only recovered one of six fumbles by their opponents.

Georgia Southern’s defensive statistics may not look that bad on the surface. The Eagles lead the SoCon (counting all games, non-league included) in defensive pass efficiency, passing yards allowed, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, and are second in the league in passes intercepted and first downs allowed.

There is an ominous number that pops up when you look at just SoCon games, however. GSU’s defense is giving up an increasing number of yards per play with each contest.

Against Wofford, Georgia Southern’s D gave up 5.5 yards per play. In the Chattanooga game, 6.36. Samford averaged 9.17 yards per play (on 71 snaps). Yikes.

Last season, Georgia Southern only allowed more than 5.7 yards per play in one league game; in half of GSU’s SoCon matchups, it allowed less than 5 yards per play (including 4.69 y/p against The Citadel).

Yards per play is a good way to determine a team’s effectiveness on both offense and defense; that’s particularly the case in the Southern Conference, which has a wide variety of offensive styles that result in significant differences in the number of plays each team runs during a game.

The Eagles held Samford to only 4.16 yards per play in 2012. That was a game in which the Samford offense ran 85 plays. The Birmingham Bulldogs more than doubled their average gain in last week’s victory over GSU.

The Eagles got burned through the air in that game (Andy Summerlin threw 3 TD passes of 58+ yards for Samford) and were also victimized on the ground (Fabian Truss had 14 carries for 125 yards). Against Chattanooga, GSU allowed 7.2 rushing yards per carry (Jacob Huesman rushed for 148 yards).

I think it’s clear that Georgia Southern misses Brent Russell on the d-line. It also had to replace both of last year’s starting safeties (though last season’s nickel back, Deion Stanley, has moved to strong safety and has three interceptions).

GSU’s defense also suffered a blow with the loss of linebacker Patrick Flowe to injury in spring practice. Flowe was an impact performer for the Eagles last season as a true freshman.

In general, there are a lot of good players starting for Georgia Southern’s defense. There just may not be a whole lot behind them this season, mostly due to injuries, but also possibly because GSU has one eye on next season and its move to FBS. Some redshirts that normally might have been “torn up” are more likely to stay intact, at least for this year’s campaign.

Georgia Southern has used two punters this season. Sophomore Ryan Nowicki is listed as the starter this week. GSU’s placekicker, freshman Younghoe Koo, kicked a game-winning field goal late in the Eagles’ victory over Chattanooga and won SoCon special teams player of the week honors as a result.

Punt returner Brandan Thomas had a 42-yard return earlier this season. As mentioned above, Jerick McKinnon will occasionally return kickoffs (he has three returns so far in 2013). The Eagles have had four different kickers on their kickoff team this year (with Alex Hanks getting the majority of the work); they have combined for 11 touchbacks in 39 kickoffs.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day at Georgia Southern. Between the first and second quarters, there will be a swearing-in ceremony at Paulson Stadium for 35 new Army recruits. There will be various patches and decals worn by GSU players and coaches (Jeff Monken will wear four patches himself).

– GSU defensive end Lennie Richardson is an Army veteran who served as a tank gunner.

– Sources suggest that Georgia Southern is a 16-point favorite over The Citadel (the over/under is 63.5).

– When Georgia Southern’s offense and The Citadel’s defense is on the field, each team will feature a starter who was born in Haiti — cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre for the Bulldogs, and center Manrey Saint-Amour for the Eagles.

– Apparently, there is a movie being made about legendary Georgia Southern coach Erk Russell. One of the grave injustices of college football is that Russell is not in the College Football Hall of Fame. That’s because he is ineligible. Seriously.

I’ve written about this before, but keeping Russell (and Howard Schnellenberger, or Bobby Ross for that matter) out of the Hall of Fame lessens the importance of the entity itself.

– Last week’s commissioned report by James Madison on whether or not it should move to the FBS reminded me that Georgia Southern did something similar four years ago. At that time, though, the powers-that-be at GSU seemed less than enthused about making the transition.

I wrote extensively (probably too extensively) about the report when it was released, in part because the raw data was very interesting. I didn’t think moving to FBS was in GSU’s best interests then, and to be honest I don’t think it is now, either. Having said that, I wish the school (and its loyal fans) the best of luck.

I think there is a good chance that some of the pressure of the Bulldogs’ season has been eased by the win over Appalachian State. I hope that leads to an even better performance in Statesboro. Georgia Southern is still a good team, one capable of making big plays at any time, but The Citadel has a chance to repeat last season’s dramatic victory.

To do so, the defense needs to force more turnovers. It is not an accident that two of the key plays against the Mountaineers were turnovers — a fumble that changed the tenor of the contest, and the interception in OT. If GSU puts the ball on the ground this Saturday, there needs to be a Bulldog nearby ready to pounce on it.

Offensively, I think it’s important to stay the course. Run, run, then run some more. Avoiding 2nd-and-long and 3rd-and-long is critical.

This is just a hunch of mine, but I think it’s time for The Citadel’s punt return unit to produce a game-changing block or return.

It should be a nice afternoon in south Georgia. It would be much nicer, though, with another Bulldogs victory.

Game Review, 2012: Elon

The Citadel 38, Elon 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

The Citadel’s release

Kevin Higgins’ postgame news conference (with Darien Robinson)

Postgame locker room speech

WCSC-TV story on the game (with video highlights)

Box score

The weather was great, the atmosphere was festive, the tailgating was ridiculous, and the Bulldogs won on Homecoming. All in all, it was a very good day to be back at The Citadel.

Was I worried when Elon crawled back from a 25-point deficit to get within a touchdown? Sure. I definitely didn’t want to be in the stands to witness the biggest blown lead in The Citadel’s football history.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, thanks to a 14-play drive that didn’t end until Darien Robinson crashed into the end zone with 2:33 remaining, essentially icing the game. Afterwards, Robinson described Kevin Higgins’ pep talk to the offense before the drive:

Coach got his message across in no uncertain terms. He let us know, we had to establish ourselves on that drive.

Heh…”in no uncertain terms.” Robinson certainly took the message to heart, carrying the ball nine times during the possession (which lasted over six minutes and featured nothing but running plays). He gained 54 of his 178 yards for the day on those nine rushes. Of the final ten plays on the drive, eight were runs by Robinson.

The offensive line came to play at the end, too, especially Mike Sellers, who was taking names on a consistent basis.

I was struck by how physical the game was, from both sides. It took its toll on some of the participants. Elon appeared to get the worst of things, most notably when Phoenix running back Karl Bostick was hurt on a rather brutal play in which he got bent over backwards while being tackled.

Bostick’s injury was to his ankle and may have been season-ending, according to Elon coach Jason Swepson. I was afraid that might be the case when it happened.

I think Elon’s players deserve some credit for not quitting after falling behind 31-6 early in the third quarter, especially after the way the first half ended. That had to have been as crushing a way to go into a locker room for the break as one could imagine.

Swepson made a mistake managing the clock at the end of the half, and the Bulldogs took full advantage. Kevin Higgins could have let the half end, and no one would have criticized him, but he elected to run a play and see what would happen. He made an intelligent call, the quarterback draw, and was rewarded. Three plays later, The Citadel would pull off a “Hail Mary”.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen The Citadel connect on a Hail Mary in person. At least, I don’t recall another one. I do remember, however, seeing the Bulldogs score a touchdown on the final play of the first half at Johnson Hagood Stadium on one other occasion.

That would have been November 28, 1992. With seven seconds remaining in the first half, The Citadel led North Carolina A&T 13-0 in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. The Aggies had the ball and were inside the Bulldogs’ 30-yard-line, but Tracey Gamble sacked the A&T quarterback, who fumbled. Todd Lair picked up the loose pigskin and rumbled 65 yards for a TD.

As it happens, the 1992 team was honored at halftime of Saturday’s game. Perhaps there was a little magic left over from that ’92 squad…

I linked above to The Post and Courier‘s photo gallery of the game, but just in case anyone missed it, here is a nice shot of Matt Thompson making the reception on the Hail Mary: Link

Having the presence of mind to turn and leap into the end zone may have been more impressive than the catch itself — and the catch was great.

The crowd at Johnson Hagood was announced as 14,853. There was no official total to be had for the number of tailgaters, of course. I really don’t know how many people were tailgating who never entered the stadium. If I said at least 3,000, would that be an outrageous guess? Or would it be a conservative estimate?

Oh, and the flyover was outstanding.

Complaints dept.:

– The Citadel let Elon back into the game by unaccountably bogging down on offense in the second half. After scoring a TD on its opening drive of the stanza, the Bulldogs’ next four drives went like this: lost fumble, three-and-out, three-and-out, three-and-out. A better team may have made The Citadel pay for losing its offensive momentum.

– The defense played well in the first half, but was also a bit lucky. Thomas Wilson failed to connect with Bostick on what would have been a TD pass on the Phoenix’s first possession. Later in the half, the Bulldogs blew a coverage, but Wilson overthrew Aaron Mellette, missing out on a long TD pass.

– The Hail Mary disguised the fact that the rest of the Bulldogs’ passing game was suboptimal on Saturday. Aside from that one play, The Citadel was 1-9 passing for 15 yards.

– I thought the Bulldogs’ timing on pitches seemed a little off at times on Saturday. The Citadel lost a fumble on an errant pitch. Another semi-wayward toss was gathered in by Terrance Martin, who turned it into a rather nimble six-yard run.

Employees of the Week dept:

– Darien Robinson

– Mike Sellers

– Brandon McCladdie, for his outstanding coverage of Aaron Mellette, who had caught at least two touchdown passes in his previous six games. Mellette had no TDs on Saturday and had no truly big plays.

Best play I haven’t mentioned yet: Douglas German made a memorable special teams tackle on The Citadel’s final kickoff. I’m not sure what adjective to use to describe it. I think I’ll go with “sudden”.

Now the Bulldogs are just one win away from clinching a winning season, which was the baseline goal entering the 2012 campaign. The first chance to get win #6 comes next Saturday at VMI, as The Citadel looks to retain the coveted Silver Shako.

There is still a possibility the Bulldogs could sneak into the FCS playoffs with two more victories, although the other SoCon results from this weekend probably reduced the chances of that happening. At any rate, this is VMI week. There is no reason to concentrate on anything else.

Below are photos from Saturday. I seem to be getting worse every week taking pictures. Most of the game action shots are from the first half, as I didn’t have much luck with the camera after halftime.

2011 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Jacksonville

The Citadel vs. Jacksonville, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 3.  The game will not be televised, although it will be webcast on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with new “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action.

It’s that time of year! College football has arrived and not a moment too soon.  I’m tired of reading about the Summer of Ponzi and all the other scandals that have beset the sport in the off-season, and while I enjoy discussing realignment as much as anybody, the Texas A&M two-step with the SEC is starting to get old.  I’m ready to see some activity on the playing field.

This is an important season for The Citadel’s football program.  I wrote about the program’s status last November; nothing has happened since then to make me think that the 2011 campaign will be anything other than a defining one for Kevin Higgins and his coaching staff.  I’m far from the only person who thinks that success of some sort this season is paramount.   The intensity in the crowd at the recent open scrimmage was palpable.

One thing is certain:  if there ever were a year for the football team to “sneak up” on people, this is the one.  Southern Conference media members picked The Citadel to finish last.  Only one player (Tolu Akindele) made either the preseason all-conference first or second teams.  The SoCon coaches’ vote had The Citadel in next-to-last place, ahead of only Western Carolina; that’s the same verdict rendered by The Sports Network.

Last season, the Bulldogs played three non-conference games before beginning league play.  This year, though, The Citadel will play six of its first seven games against SoCon opposition.  The Bulldogs will have a good idea of where they stand before the fall harvest.

The only non-league game in that group of seven contests is the first one, and it is far from the “gimme game” that the home opener has been in recent years.  Instead of scheduling a glorified scrimmage against the likes of Webber International or Chowan, The Citadel is playing Jacksonville, which went 10-1 last season and shared the Pioneer League title (with Dayton).  The Dolphins, favored to win the PL again, will be a formidable challenge.

Jacksonville University is not to be confused with Jacksonville State University, which is located in Alabama and has a football team coached by Jack Crowe, the man who was on the wrong side of one of The Citadel’s more notable gridiron triumphs. Jacksonville University is located in Jacksonville, Florida, and its football team is coached by Kerwin Bell.  (More on him later.)

Jacksonville began in 1934 as a junior college named “William J. Porter University” after its founder; in 1958 it became a four-year school after merging with the Jacksonville School of Music.  As of today it’s a private, liberal-arts university with roughly 3,500 undergraduate students (60% of whom are women).

JU’s “Timeline” feature on its website includes a lot of concerts in the 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps an indication of the importance of the music school in relation to the rest of the university at that time.  Performers who made their way to Swisher Gym included Dionne Warwick, Neil Diamond, Duke Ellington, John Denver, and Billy Joel; K.C. and the Sunshine Band recorded a live album there.

Jacksonville awarded honorary doctorates to Bob Hope and Jack Benny on the same day in 1972.  Another same-day honorary doctorate duo for JU:  Charlton Heston and Ann Landers (who received hers less than a year after writing that Jacksonville U. was one of “the four top colleges in the nation”).

It’s also worth noting that Jacksonville University has the second-largest NROTC program in the country.

Jacksonville has twenty-one varsity sports.  Its nickname, the Dolphins, came to be in 1947 following a student contest (the original contest winner was “Green Dolphins”; another possibility had been the “Juggernauts”).  The official school mascot is an actual dolphin — 58-year-old Nellie, a Marineland mainstay.

The most famous of all JU athletes is, without a doubt, basketball Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore.  Second place on the school’s famous athlete list is probably occupied by Donnie Hammond.  (Like I said, there is no doubt about #1.)

Gilmore played two seasons at Jacksonville (he started his career at Gardner-Webb, then a junior college) and averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game, which I think can be best described as “awesome”.  In his junior season, he led the Dolphins to the NCAA title game.

Yes, you read that right.  Jacksonville played in the Final Four in 1970, just twelve years after becoming a four-year school.  We’re not talking Division II, either.  The high-scoring Dolphins beat Western Kentucky, Iowa, and No. 1 Kentucky to win the Mideast Regional.  Jacksonville averaged over 106 points per game in those three contests.

– Tangent #1:  What a weird Final Four that was.  There was nothing strange about UCLA being there (and the Bruins would beat Jacksonville in the final, 80-69), but the other three teams were Jacksonville, St. Bonaventure, and New Mexico State.  The Dolphins and the Bonnies were at the time the two smallest schools to ever make it that far, and they played each other in the semifinals.  Alas, it was a mismatch, as St. Bonaventure star Bob Lanier had injured his knee in the regional final and could not play in the Final Four.  Thus, the spectators at Cole Field House were denied the opportunity to watch two future Hall of Fame centers face each other.

After that season, Dolphins coach Joe Williams left JU and took the job at Furman.

– Tangent #2:  Artis Gilmore and his wife have been married for 39 years.  Her name is Enola Gay.  I thought that was worth mentioning.

Okay, it’s time to talk about JU football…

Jacksonville started its football program in 1998, winning its first-ever game 19-14 over Davidson.  The school’s media guide also lists Davidson as being the first ranked team (at No. 3!) the Dolphins ever played, in a 2001 contest won 45-3 by JU, but I have to seriously question that.  What poll would this have been?  Maybe it was a poll only including Southern Conference schools that don’t play scholarship football.

JU plays its home games at Milne Field, a 5,000-seat facility built specifically for the football program, which averaged 3,761 fans per game last season.  The Dolphins have won nine straight home games, but the real eye-popping numbers are from their road games — not necessarily the results on the field, but the travel involved. Jacksonville has six road games this year.  JU will bus to The Citadel for Saturday’s game.  Later in the year the Dolphins will also take the bus to Campbell, assuming the bus driver can find his way to Buies Creek.

However, the Dolphins will make four road trips by air, flying to the University of San Diego, Drake (which is in Iowa), Marist (New York), and Western Illinois (travelling to WIU on the day of the game).  That is a total of 5,575 miles in the air.

Having multiple long airplane flights is a consequence of playing in the Pioneer League, a non-scholarship FCS conference with ten members.  Jacksonville is the southernmost school in the league, which has three members in the southeast (JU, Davidson, Campbell), five in or around the midwest (Drake, Valparaiso, Dayton, Butler, Morehead State), one west coast entry (USD) and one northeastern school (Marist).

One reason for having such a far-flung league is that all of those schools choose to play football at the non-scholarship level while maintaining a NCAA Division I athletics program.  Since 1993, institutions have had to play football at the same level as their other sports, which affected schools like Dayton (a D-3 power in football during the 1980s) in particular.  There aren’t a lot of D-1 schools that offer non-scholarship football but provide schollies in other sports (which distinguishes these institutions from those in the Ivy League, for example).

Jacksonville is not likely to become a scholarship football program in the near future. That possibility was suggested to the president of the university, who responded:

[It] costs too much for us to do it right now. For us to move into scholarship football because of the rules for gender equity, we would not only have to be able to fund the scholarship program year in and year out, we would also have to fund a similar amount for women’s athletics.

And we simply can’t afford it right now. If we had some major donors that came forward and helped us, then something like that could be possible. It’s simply economics. We need a stadium, our stadium is quaint. We would need a stadium where the fan base would generate revenue.

The revenue we get right now is diminutive. With a stadium, you could start getting money back into the program. There are some positives to it, but it’s simply too expensive right now.

In 2013, two new football programs will join the Pioneer League — Stetson and Mercer.  That should help alleviate Jacksonville’s travel burden to a certain extent.

Kerwin Bell played his high school ball in the small town of Mayo, Florida, where he was known as “The Throwin’ Mayoan”.  Arriving at the University of Florida as a walk-on, in one year he managed to climb the ladder from eighth-string to starter.  In 1984, Bell and the Gators would win the SEC title, winning eight straight games to close out the season.  The SEC title was short-lived, however, as the conference rescinded it the following year due to UF being on probation.  In 1985 Florida would go 9-1-1 for a second straight season, and again was not awarded the league crown (and again could not go to a bowl game) because of NCAA violations.

Two years later Bell began his pro career, which featured multiple stops in the CFL (including a stint in the Canadian outpost of Sacramento), a tour of duty with the Orlando Thunder of the Arena Football League, and a two-year stay with the Indianapolis Colts.  Bell got into one game with the Colts, mopping up in a 1996 contest against the Philadelphia Eagles.  In that game, he threw five passes, completing all five for 75 yards and a touchdown (to Marvin Harrison).  Bell finished with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.  Contained within his Wikipedia entry is this astute observation:

[Kerwin Bell] has the highest career passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history, higher than current and future Hall of Fame members Joe Namath, Steve Young, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Brett Favre.

Bell’s coaching career actually started in 1990.  While recovering from an ACL injury he worked for one year as a graduate assistant coach for Steve Spurrier, who had taken over the Florida program.  His next coaching job came with the Toronto Argonauts in 2000, where he served as offensive coordinator (while still playing quarterback).

He then spent six years as head coach of a new football program at Trinity High School in Ocala, Florida.   He has been the head coach at JU for the last four seasons (with the upcoming campaign being his fifth).  Bell is 29-17 overall at Jacksonville, with records of 3-8, 9-4, 7-4, and 10-1. In two of the last three campaigns JU has won outright or shared the Pioneer League title, with the 2008 season documented by a “JUDolphins.com best seller”.

It seems reasonable to speculate about whether Bell is striving to follow a career path similar to that of Jim Harbaugh, who started his head coaching career at a Pioneer League school (San Diego) before moving up to Stanford, and who now is in charge of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers.  Bell said last season that he is not “the kind of guy who needs to be on TV“, but if he continues his successful run at JU, he is likely going to get an opportunity to take a higher-profile job.

Bell’s staff at Jacksonville includes three assistant coaches who played in the NFL. Ernie Logan spent nine seasons in the league as a defensive lineman.  Not surprisingly, he is the Dolphins’ DL coach.

Ernie Mills was a wide receiver who also spent nine years in the NFL, mostly with Pittsburgh.  He caught eight TD passes in 1995, a year in which the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl.

Jerry Crafts (aka “The Condo”) appeared in two Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills, one of five NFL teams for which he played, along with three CFL teams, four AFL outfits, two WLAF franchises, and (inevitably) one XFL team (the Los Angeles Xtreme).  He also made an appearance on Howard Stern’s radio program.

Like Bell, Mills also played his college ball at Florida, with their careers in Gainesville overlapping slightly, along with that of Dolphins defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, the only coach the JU athletics website lists as being on Twitter.  He doesn’t appear to take full advantage of the service.

Staff meetings at JU must get confusing at times, what with two coaches named “Ernie”, two named “Jerry”, another named “Kerry” (running backs coach Kerry Webb), and a head coach called “Kerwin”.

The Dolphins have 100 players listed on their active roster.  All but six of them are from Florida.  A couple of notable names on the list who may or may not see action against The Citadel are freshman quarterback Kade Bell, son of the head coach, and freshman WR/TE Andrew Robustelli.  If Robustelli’s name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because his grandfather was a Hall of Fame defensive end for the New York Giants in the 1950s.

Jacksonville runs a pro-style offense, and while the Dolphins like to pass, the offense is reasonably balanced.  Last season JU rushed 387 times while throwing 348 passes.  I would still describe it as a “pass-first” setup, mainly because I’m guessing a lot of the rushing attempts came at the end of blowouts.

Ah yes, blowouts.  The Dolphins had a lot of those in 2010, with an 86-7 demolition of poor Valparaiso being the biggest (check out that 38-point second quarter).  JU also pummeled Webber International (41-0), Marist (56-14), Davidson (42-15), and Morehead State (61-17).

As you can see, JU likes to put up crooked numbers.  The Dolphins lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42.2 points per game, just one of several gaudy team offensive statistics.  Jacksonville averaged 486 yards of total offense per game (7.3 yards per play).  JU also averaged an outstanding 9.3 yards per pass attempt, with 35 of its 217 completed throws going for touchdowns (against only seven interceptions).

Leading that offense this year, as he has for the previous three, is 6’2″, 210-lb. senior quarterback Josh McGregor, who has more career passing yards than any returning QB in the nation (8,186).  He has thrown 87 touchdown passes in his 35-game run as the JU signal-caller.  McGregor threw for 300 yards or more seven times last season and is on the Payton Watch List.  A highlight package featuring some of McGregor’s 2010 exploits has been uploaded to YouTube.

His top target is senior wideout Josh Philpart, who has 29 career touchdown receptions.  Philpart averaged 16.7 yards per catch last year.  Another receiver, Larry Thompson, was only a half-step behind Philpart in most statistical categories, other than TDs.  Jacksonville likes to spread things around, as six different players caught at least 18 passes last season (including two running backs).

Incidentally, Philpart did not have a reception in the game last season against Appalachian State.  I’m guessing that the Dolphins will try to get him involved in the game early against The Citadel in order to avoid having him become a non-factor.

Jacksonville’s all-time rushing leader, Rudell Small, has graduated, but the Dolphins have a more than adequate replacement in J.J. Laster, who rushed for 830 yards last season in backup duty (8.5 yards per carry).  Laster rushed for 177 yards in the game against Marist.

JU lost both its starting left tackle and left guard off the offensive line.  Last year’s right tackle, Chad Cypher, is moving to left tackle to protect McGregor’s “blind side”; at 6’6″, 310 lbs., Cypher at least looks the part.  He has drawn some pre-season accolades.

Kevin Higgins briefly discussed Jacksonville’s offense with Jeff Hartsell after a weeknight practice:

They have a multiple offense, a little bit like we were the first couple of years. They will spread you out, the QB is a really smart player who can check at the line of scrimmage. They try to create space on the field, and the QB is experienced and one of the tops in I-AA. And the line is very experienced as well.

As for the Dolphins’ defense, Higgins stated he had no idea how Jacksonville would line up against The Citadel, as JU didn’t face an option team last season (the Dolphins normally feature a 4-3 scheme).

Jacksonville’s defensive line is relatively experienced.  It is also small.  Nose tackle Mike Mayoral weighs 210 pounds.  Defensive end Rolando Fines is a little bigger (245 lbs.) and is expected to lead the group.

As far as JU’s linebacking corps is concerned, Kerwin Bell is quoted in JU’s media guide as saying that “we’re sort of iffy there.”  Layne McCombs is a senior who would be Jacksonville’s top defensive player, except he has a knee problem (torn ACL from last season).  Whether he plays or not is apparently open to question.  The Dolphins are probably going to play some of their younger players in this unit and hope for the best.

Jacksonville is in better shape in the defensive secondary, with three starters returning and a decent amount of depth.  One concern for JU is that none of its DBs are particularly tall.

Jacksonville had an excellent punt return squad last season, averaging a sizzling 11.1 yards per return in 2010, but its top return man graduated.  Its kick return numbers were mediocre at best.  JU did a fairly good job holding down its opponents’ return yardage.

The Dolphins will have a new punter and a new placekicker this season, which could be problematic in a season opener.

The Citadel’s total offense numbers in the eight Southern Conference games in 2010 were as follows:  359, 304, 263, 197, 160, 143, 300, 203.  Those are listed in order of the games as they were played — in other words, the 359 total yards of offense came in the Bulldogs’ first league game (against Furman).  The offense continued to put up fewer yards of offense each week until “breaking through” with 300 yards against a less-than-stellar Elon defense, and then regressed back to 203 yards against a solid Samford D in the season’s final game (which The Citadel managed to win anyway).

On the bright side, the offense only committed one turnover in the final two games (combined), which was obviously a vast improvement from, say, the Georgia Southern debacle (nine turnovers).  The Citadel turned the ball over 32 times in all, which included 23 lost fumbles.  The Bulldogs actually had 44 total fumbles in eleven games, and also had an inordinate number of ball-possession miscues that did not quite result in fumbles but had the effect of ending a play before it really got started.

The lack of yardage can be directly tied to The Citadel’s ball-control woes.  Those issues must be fixed if the Bulldogs are to have a respectable 2011 campaign.  The offense’s ineptitude also had a negative impact on the defense, which had to defend a short field too many times.  Kevin Higgins admitted as much during his radio interview with Phil Kornblut on August 25 (Kornblut also talked to Tolu Akindele and Terrell Dallas).  The head coach didn’t mince words:

We really played, I think, much better defense than people give us credit for, and the reason is because our offense was so bad, the defense was on the field so much, that there was a lot of pressure on them…it was the first year with the option, the ball was on the ground…I remember going home at this time last year and going, ooh.

Fans going home after watching the Bulldogs offense struggle didn’t all say “ooh”…more like “ugh” (or perhaps something unprintable).

There is optimism among those following the team that the second year in the offense will result in significant improvement.  I sure wouldn’t mind winning four more games this season than last, like the Bulldogs did in 1987-88 running Charlie Taaffe‘s wishbone (going from 4-7 to 8-4).

There are also whispers about a special “edge” the Bulldogs now possess.  This edge is reportedly known in certain circles as The Candeto Factor.  It’s all hush-hush.

Sophomore Ben Dupree will be the starter at quarterback (and a team captain as well, which I thought was interesting), after beginning last season as the starter, moving to second string, then third string, making a cameo appearance as a running back, and then returning to the starting lineup as the quarterback for the final two games of the season.  If making the right reads, Dupree, who has shown signs of being an elusive runner, could be a big-play threat.  He is a bit on the small side and needs to improve his passing.

Dupree will be backed up by Matt Thompson and freshman Aaron Miller, who looked good (at least to me) in the Bulldogs’ last open scrimmage.  There is depth at running back, with at least four different players hoping to make an impact, including the Lazarus of the backfield, Rickey Anderson.  Terrell Dallas is the fullback, and he’s a good one.  Against Jacksonville’s smallish defensive line, he may be called upon to do some power running.  His understudy is Darien Robinson, who isn’t afraid to move a pile either.

Mike Sellers, thrown into the line of fire as the starting center as a freshman, is bigger and better.  That should be the case for the offensive line in general (including the imposing Neal Strange), although injured guard Jameson Bryant will not play in the opener.  Keith Carter moves from defense to offense to add athleticism to the o-line.  (I keep wanting to call him Kenny Carter.  Getting old is tough.)

While most triple option offenses don’t throw the ball too often, this isn’t any ordinary triple option offense — it’s the Triple O’Higgins!  Higgins told Kornblut that the ideal number of passes in the TO’H is 10-12 per game.

Several of those pass attempts will undoubtedly be thrown in the general direction of Domonic Jones, the Bulldogs’ leading receiver last season.  At 6’5″, he could prove to be a tough matchup for the short Jacksonville defensive backs.  Actually, he should prove to be a tough matchup for almost any defensive secondary he faces.  One of The Citadel’s other receivers, Luke Caldwell, may be the best passer on the team, if the Samford game last season and the recent scrimmage are any indication.

As mentioned above, the Bulldog D was solid in 2010 for the most part.  I think the only time I was really disappointed in the unit’s play was against Elon.  The defense had trouble getting off the field in that game, and also fared poorly in the “red zone”. Stopping opponents from scoring when inside the 20 should be a point of emphasis this year, as that is an area in which the Bulldogs need to do better (allowing a 64% TD rate last season).

Against Jacksonville, which converted on third down 49% of the time in 2010, it will be even more important to prevent long drives and turn the ball back over to the offense. To do that, The Citadel needs to improve incrementally in defensive statistical categories such as average per pass attempt (7.6 last year) and average per rush (4.3).

The Bulldogs also need to grab more than their fair share of turnovers.  The Citadel finished last in the Southern Conference in interceptions in 2010.  The squad needs to grab a few more and also force more fumbles.

To paraphrase Akindele in his interview with Phil Kornblut, the Bulldogs D needs its playmakers to make more big plays.  Akindele himself is one of those playmakers, having led the team in tackles last season.

He’s joined by a solid group of linemen and linebackers, including Derek Douglas, Chris Billingslea, and Rod Harland, who judging from the recent scrimmage has been ready to lace ’em up again since last season ended.  He was bringing the heat, as the kids say.  (They do say that, right?)

The defense as a whole has a lot of depth (a priority for the coaches), particularly on the line, but also in the secondary, making it easier to absorb the loss of Cortez Allen, now of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Bulldogs seem to be in solid shape at cornerback, which is a good thing, as Jacksonville’s group of talented receivers will provide a stern test.

Cass Couey returns for the third straight year as the Bulldogs’ dependable punter. The Citadel in general was okay in most phases of the return game.  Keith Gamble, besides starting at cornerback, is a threat to go the distance as a kick returner (he had an 87-yarder against Elon last year).  He averaged 25 yards per return in 2010.

Ryan Sellers will be the starting placekicker for The Citadel this season.  The kickoff specialist shared PK duties last year, making five of nine, including a 47-yarder against Chattanooga, the season long for a Bulldog kicker by eight yards.  As you would expect of a kicker, he wears a kicker’s number — #99.

The matchup between the Bulldogs and the Dolphins will be a big one for both teams, even though it is only the first game of the season.  In the long run, it may actually mean more to Jacksonville than it does to The Citadel, though.

JU missed out on a bid to the FCS playoffs by a narrow margin last season.  While the Dolphins were 10-1, the schedule strength just wasn’t there to justify Jacksonville receiving a berth in the postseason.  Jacksonville only played two scholarship programs, one of which (Old Dominion) had only re-started its football program the year before.  The other, of course, was Appalachian State, which throttled the Dolphins (not that there was any shame in that).

In fact, Jacksonville has only defeated three scholarship programs in its history — Old Dominion last season, Coastal Carolina (in the Chanticleers’ first season of football in 2003), and Savannah State (in 2008).  In 2011, the Dolphins will have three opportunities to beat scholarship programs, as JU will open the season against The Citadel, Western Illinois, and Charleston Southern (with the CSU game played at Milne Field).

To make its case for an at-large bid (the Pioneer League is not an automatic qualifying conference), Jacksonville needs to win at least two (if not all three) of those games.  Beating up Valparaiso and Marist isn’t going to be enough.  Moreover, if JU cannot beat a team picked to finish last in the SoCon, its case for a bid may completely dissolve.

For The Citadel, getting off to a good start this season is critically important.  The Bulldogs badly need to gain confidence in their offensive system and establish some momentum prior to a run of six consecutive Southern Conference games.  It’s also a home game, and the team must show its supporters that there is reason to believe in the upcoming campaign.

Fans gave the team some leeway last season as the new offense was installed.  It was understood that there would be trying times on occasion in 2010, although some of those times were more trying than anyone would have liked.  Now there has been a year for the coaches and players to get comfortable with the system.  There won’t be any more metaphorical mulligans handed out.

The Citadel has only had one winning season since 1997.  The game against Jacksonville could go a long way in determining whether that trend will continue, or if the Bulldogs can begin to dream of success — for this season, and for future seasons as well.

I’m looking forward to late Saturday afternoon at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

Time/location:  2:00 pm ET, Johnson Hagood Stadium

Television:  None (maybe a good thing)

It’s Homecoming at The Citadel.  What can alums expect from the Bulldogs’ offense against Elon?

Well, let’s look at the trends in Southern Conference play.  The first game was against Furman.  The latest was against Wofford.  So, in order:

Furman — 359 total yards, 14 points

Western Carolina — 304 total yards, 13 points

Chattanooga — 263 total yards, 10 points

Appalachian State — 197 total yards, 10 points

Georgia Southern — 160 yards, 0 points

Wofford — 143 total yards, 0 points

Now, that’s what I call a trend…

The yards per play is very close to the same orderly negative statistical trend, but there was a minor uptick against GSU (masked by nine turnovers).  For the record, The Citadel’s yards per play in the SoCon, in order of games played:  4.6, 4.1, 4.0, 3.3, 3.4, 2.3

So, if things continue as they have in the league, The Citadel’s Homecoming will feature an offense that will accumulate less than 140 yards of total offense, average about 2 yards per play, and won’t score.

I don’t think it will be that bad, but it’s hard to find much to be encouraged about, at least offensively (the defense has played fairly well over the last month, certainly well enough for the Bulldogs to have won SoCon games if the offense had been competent).

Turnovers have been the headline problem, of course, but another issue is that the Bulldogs aren’t making big plays in the offense.  One reason The Citadel has scored only five touchdowns in six conference games is a lack of long-distance runs or passes.  The Bulldogs only have had eight plays of 20+ yards in those six contests; only two of those plays were longer than 30 yards — and one of those two plays was a 33-yard run by punter Cass Couey, obviously not a product of the option offense.

The Bulldogs have had nine drives of greater than 50 yards in league play.  Four of those nine came against Furman in the conference opener.  None came in the last two games.

Incidentally, of those nine 50+ yard drives, Matt Thompson was the quarterback for five of them, Sam Martin the QB for the other four.

I would like to think the Bulldogs will give a spirited performance for the Homecoming crowd.  That didn’t happen last season, when The Citadel lost 43-17 to Wofford in a very poor showing that greatly disappointed the alumni.

The year before, the Bulldogs narrowly averted a horrific loss at Homecoming to a terrible Chattanooga team.  The Mocs were in the process of mailing in their season under a lame-duck coach, but The Citadel needed last-minute heroics from Andre Roberts to escape with a 24-21 victory.

This year’s Homecoming game has been designated as a “Red Out”.  There are two reasons for this, in my opinion.

The official reason is to commemorate the return of “Big Red”.  The other (and this is just my opinion) is to take advantage of the largest crowd of the season and sell a bunch of “Big Red” merchandise.

That crowd size has to be the only reason the administration would have considered having a “Red Out” for a game in which the opponent is Elon, whose primary school color is…red.  At least, I hope that’s the only reason.  It still strikes me as not being a wise decision, and I know I’m not the only one.

The effort to promote Big Red apparently will also include red jerseys for the football team, if the rumors are true (and I’m sure they are).  There will also be a special Homecoming helmet design (see post #40 on this thread from TCISN), which is basically a remake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ helmets.  Not bad, but not innovative or particularly interesting.

If The Citadel does indeed don red jerseys against Elon, that will mean the Bulldogs would not have worn the traditional home color combo of light blue jerseys/white pants for any home game this season.  I guess at this point our traditional colors are now alternate colors, and the alternate uniforms are the “main” uniforms.

Below I’ve listed the color combos for all nine games to date in 2010:

Chowan (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Arizona (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Presbyterian (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Furman (road):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Western Carolina (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Appalachian State (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Chattanooga (home):  dark blue jerseys, white pants

Georgia Southern (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Wofford (road):  white jerseys, dark blue pants

One thing I’m unfortunately fairly confident about:  if The Citadel does wear red jerseys on Saturday, the jerseys will have “CITADEL” on the front, and not “THE CITADEL”. That, of course, is true for all the other jerseys the Bulldogs have worn this year, regardless of color.  I assume it’s a cost-saving issue, as having the “THE” on the jersey would undoubtedly cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is one of my more cynical and less positive posts, and so the fact it’s also one of my shorter game previews is probably just as well.  That said, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised on Saturday.  For one thing, it’s time for a little payback as far as Elon is concerned.  The Phoenix’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium (in 2008) was a victory for the visitors, one basically handed to Elon by inept Southern Conference officiating.

Quarterback Scott Riddle may not start for Elon due to injury.  You may remember the last time Riddle started something against The Citadel; he ran away before finishing it, though.

Riddle can talk to Fred Jordan about shoulder injuries…

I’m not expecting a brawl on Saturday.  I do want to see some fight in the Bulldogs, though.

Review: Wofford

During the game, SportSouth played a clip of The Citadel Regimental Band playing at the 2010 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

It was easily the highlight of the telecast for The Citadel.

Sam Wyche struggled trying to come up with a positive for the Bulldogs.  At one point, he noted that The Citadel had cut its turnovers in half from the week before.  When the best thing that can be said about your offense is that it didn’t commit nine turnovers in consecutive weeks, your offense has issues.

(Wyche also struggled with calling Kevin Higgins by his right name, at least twice referring to “Mike Higgins” before sheepishly correcting himself.  I think Wyche is a solid announcer, so I wouldn’t hold it against him.  Calling a game like that one can be difficult.)

The Citadel has been shut out in consecutive games for the first time in a decade.  In case you were wondering, the last time the Bulldogs were shut out three times in a row was 1953, when The Citadel actually suffered four straight shutout losses.  I would say that if the Bulldogs can’t put a crooked number on the board against Elon on Homecoming, it’s going to get ugly, but the fact is that it’s already ugly.

Not only have the Bulldogs been shut out twice in succession, in neither game did The Citadel snap the ball in the opponent’s “red zone”.  The closest the Bulldogs have come to the opposing end zone in the last two games?  In the Georgia Southern game, The Citadel reached the GSU 23-yard line before fumbling.  Against Wofford, the deepest penetration was the Terrier 38-yard line, which is where The Citadel was when the game ended.

I didn’t understand why the Bulldogs did not make an effort to run more plays at the game’s end, to be honest.  Why not at least try to score?  What did they have to lose?  I was disappointed in that.

I was disappointed in a lot of things…

From Jeff Hartsell’s notes column on the game:

The Bulldogs also put freshman Ben Dupree in at quarterback for the first time since the season opener against Chowan. Dupree, who had been playing at slotback, ran nine times for a net of three yards.

“Just trying to get something to jump-start the offense,” Higgins said. “In practice, when Ben’s in there, he usually breaks one or two for 50-plus yards. He did some things, but also put the ball on the ground, too.”

I’ve got to ask…if he has been breaking “one or two for 50-plus yards” in practice, why wasn’t he put in the game at quarterback in other games?  Is there any particular reason a potential big-play threat wouldn’t have been useful against Georgia Southern, or Chattanooga, or Western Carolina?

The quarterback rotation in the game against Wofford was curious.  Matt Thompson started, was replaced by Dupree, who was replaced by Thompson, who gave way to Sam Martin.

This might not be exactly right, so I apologize if I’m off by a play or two, but I think the rotation went like this:  Thompson for two series (six plays), followed by Dupree for three series (fifteen plays), followed by Thompson for seven series (twenty-five plays), followed by Martin for two series (sixteen plays).

The Citadel managed only 143 yards of total offense.  About half of that came during the last two series of the contest; Martin was in the game for both.  That’s not to say he was necessarily playing better than the other two quarterbacks (after all, Wofford wasn’t playing many of its starters by that time), but the team did move the ball a little bit when he was in the game.

The defense turned in a respectable performance.  It did allow two long scoring drives, but otherwise held up its end of the bargain.  It has to be tough to constantly defend on your side of the field.  Wofford’s average starting position on its offensive possessions was its own 44-yard line (although that’s better than last week, when GSU’s average drive started on The Citadel’s 40-yard line).

Eric Clanton and Tolu Akindele were noticeably active (Akindele forced two fumbles). Rod Harland led the team with ten tackles.

Everyone knew this wasn’t going to be the easiest of seasons, not with the transition to the triple option offense.  I think what is most frustrating, though, is that Bulldog fans really haven’t seen that much of the triple option in action.

Instead, they’ve seen constant problems with the exchanges between the quarterback and the center, and the quarterback and the fullback.  It’s as if the play never develops, and the result is the quarterback being tackled for a three-yard loss, or a fumble, or both.

In addition, when The Citadel attempts a pass it is more often than not a “cover your eyes” situation.

On to Elon.  It’s Homecoming.  My advice to alums returning for their reunions: concentrate on the tailgating.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.

Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

I’ll begin this post with what may become an annual riff on UTC nomenclature.  As I noted last year, trying to determine what to call the athletic teams of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga isn’t the simplest thing in the world to do:

Recently the school began using a ‘C’ mark, for “Chattanooga”.  The university’s teams have variously been referred to over the years as “UT-Chattanooga”, “Tennessee-Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Chattanooga”.

The nickname/mascot history is even more tangled.  A “moccasin” used to be a snake, then a shoe, then a cartoon Cherokee Indian called ‘Chief Moccanooga’, and now a mockingbird train conductor (and “moccasin” has morphed into “moc”, for mockingbird).

There is an explanatory page on the school’s website detailing some of the nickname history.

I’ve actually made a change from last year in how I am referring to the school.  While the school itself is still called the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it is now consistently calling its athletic teams “Chattanooga” while still using the “UTC” acronym.  Therefore, I’ll drop the “UT-Chattanooga” usage.

Irrelevant but semi-interesting:  while surfing UTC’s website (the main one, not the athletics site) I found out that UTC was actually a private school until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.  Between 1889 and 1907, it was called U.S. Grant University.

Both UTC and The Citadel have had football programs that have been in the doldrums for a decade or more.  However, the Mocs appear poised to finally move up the ladder in the Southern Conference, under the direction of Russ Huesman.  Huesman inherited a program that had gone 1-11 in the year before he arrived.  In 2009, his first year at the helm, the Mocs improved to 6-5.

This season Chattanooga is 2-2, after losing its first two games to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State, both currently ranked in the FCS Top 5.  The Mocs rebounded with victories over Eastern Kentucky and Western Carolina, the latter game played in Cullowhee.

Those two losses may have excited the UTC fan base more than the two wins, as both were close games against quality opponents.  Chattanooga led Appalachian State 28-7 at halftime before the Mountaineers scored 28 fourth-quarter points to take a 7-point lead.  The Mocs scored what would have been the tying touchdown with under a minute to play, but Huesman elected to go for two.  It didn’t work, and Appalachian State escaped Finley Stadium with a victory.

Chattanooga also led Jacksonville State 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, only for the Gamecocks to respond with 14 fourth-quarter points.  JSU’s game-winning TD came on a 72-yard pass play with 1:16 remaining.  That game, played in Alabama, came one week after Jacksonville State’s stunning win over Mississippi.

UTC’s 42-24 victory over EKU included 548 yards of total offense, including 375 yards passing (4 TDs) from B.J. Coleman and 122 yards rushing from Erroll Wynn.

Against Western Carolina, the Mocs turned the ball over four times, one of those being a fumble returned for a touchdown (Chattanooga lost three fumbles overall).  UTC was also burned by a wide receiver pass for a TD, but prevailed 27-21 in part because the Mocs D forced four turnovers of its own.

Speaking of Coleman (a transfer from Tennessee), you may remember him from last year’s game, in which The Citadel blew a 15-point lead.  During the UTC rally, the Mocs went to a no-huddle offense, and the Bulldogs never stopped it, despite the fact Chattanooga could not run the ball.  Coleman somehow threw 61 passes without being sacked, and was only “hurried” once.

Obviously, The Citadel has to turn that around on Saturday, but it won’t be easy.  For one thing, UTC appears to actually have a running game now, with senior Erroll Wynn averaging exactly 100 yards per game in three games (he didn’t play against App State).  That should take a lot of pressure off Coleman, who is averaging almost nine yards per pass attempt and has thrown 10 TD passes (against only 3 interceptions).

Chattanooga doesn’t seem to be missing Coleman’s main target from last season, Blue Cooper, all that much, as Joel Bradford has already caught 30 passes and is averaging over 126 yards receiving per game (nearly 17 yards per reception). Bradford is also a fine punt returner.

Other than the fourth-quarter problems against Appy and JSU, the Mocs D has played well, holding both EKU and WCU to less than 60 yards rushing and forcing eleven turnovers in its last three games, including nine interceptions.  Four of the picks were made by freshman Kadeem Wise.

Defensive end Chris Donald is another Tennessee transfer making an impact for the Mocs.  He has 4.5 sacks so far this season.  UTC is currently ninth in the country against the run.  One reason for that is linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who is averaging almost eleven tackles per game.

You may have seen Jeff Hartsell’s breakdown of The Citadel’s recent recruiting classes on “Bulldog Bites”.  Just for comparison, here is the two-deep from The Citadel’s playoff game against North Carolina A&T in 1992.  I could be wrong about a couple of these guys, but I should have most of this right.  The number by a player’s name is the year he entered The Citadel (for instance, Jack Douglas entered in the fall of 1988, hence “88”).

QB — Jack Douglas (88) and CJ Haynes (90)

FB — Everette Sands (89) and Travis Jervey (91)

LHB — Erick Little (90) and Terrance Rivers (90)

RHB — Cedric Sims (89) and Undra Mitchem (90)

TE — Marty Fagan (88) and Greg Perry (89, and originally a walk-on)

WR — Cornell Caldwell (89) and Damond Boatwright (90)

LT — David Morelli (88) and Doug Cobarras (89)

LG — Shayne Stephens (89) and Levi Davis (90)

C — Brett Copeland (88) and Bart Hearn (91 walk-on, I think)

RG — Lance Hansen (88) and Scott Reagan (89)

RT — Carey Cash (88) and Mike Wilkerson (91)

PK — Jeff Trinh (91)

DE — Garrett Sizer (89) and Ed McFarland (89, and originally a walk-on)

DE — Judson Boehmer (89) and Brad Keeney (92)

RT — LaQuincy Powell  (89, and yet another walk-on from that class), Todd Lair (91, maybe a walkon; not sure)

LT — Jake Erhard (89) and Lenny Clark (91)

LB — Micah Young (91) and Jim Wilson (88)

LB — Rob Briggs (89) and Tracey Gamble (90)

LB — Mike Wideman (89) and Kendall McKnight (90)

LCB — Torrency Forney (89) and Chauncey Chappelle (92)

RCB — Detric Cummings (90) and Corey Gay (90)

SS — Dan Johnson (89) and Ahren Self (91)

FS — Lester Smith (88) and Speizio Stowers (89)

P — Eric Willingham (88)

The return specialists were all part of the offense-defense two-deep.  Sizer was the long snapper.

46 players —

9 fifth-year seniors (including Douglas, Smith, and Cash)

17 players from the ’89 recruiting class, including three walk-ons

10 from the ’90 recruiting class

8 from the ’91 recruiting class

2 “true” freshmen

One quick note on the above:  the 1991 recruiting class was actually rather thin; only two other scholarship members of that class would contribute in future seasons. Whether that “lost class” was a key factor in the eventual decline in The Citadel’s gridiron fortunes is hard to say, although it certainly didn’t help.

I had plenty to say about the loss to Western Carolina last week, and about some things that rather obviously need to improve.  I’ll add a little to what I already mentioned, and note a couple of other things:

— I was glad to see that Kevin Higgins acknowledged the poor play of the secondary against WCU (you can read about his press conference here and here).  Watching the lack of ball awareness was excruciating.

— He also addressed game-planning for opposing defenses, explaining what he feels the issues are.  I suspect that this wouldn’t be as big a problem if the Bulldogs were in Year 3 or Year 4 of the triple option.

Teams that have run an option attack for a long time, like Navy or Air Force or Wofford, generally force the opponents to adjust to them, not the other way around.  That’s because their players have been in the system long enough to recognize different defensive looks, and understand basically (if not always specifically) what each person’s job is when facing a certain setup.

Having said that, I was a little concerned that Higgins seemed confident in what Russ Huesman’s defense will probably do on Saturday.  He’s basing that on what Huesman has done in the past against the option, but the Mocs have had a week off and presumably a lot more time to put in new things.  What if UTC comes out in a defensive formation for which the Bulldogs aren’t prepared?  Another lost half for The Citadel’s offense?

— Amidst all the talk about changing quarterbacks, his decision to change placekickers has seemingly gone under the radar.

— About those quarterbacks…

I’ll be honest.  I don’t care which quarterback starts.  If Higgins thinks Sam Martin starting might jump-start the team in the opening quarter, then by all means run him out there.  The bottom line is that both Martin and Matt Thompson are going to play, and they’re both going to play about the same number of plays — at least, that’s the plan.

Martin has looked more comfortable in the offense than Thompson, but he hasn’t been that much better.  We’re not talking about the second coming of a healthy Jamelle Holieway here.  At this point, we don’t know if we’re talking about the second coming of a healthy Brendan Potts (which would be okay by me).

Neither Martin nor Thompson has mastered the center/QB exchange (to be fair, neither have the centers).  Thompson seems to still struggle with the “mesh”, and should also heed the advice of John Wooden — be quick but don’t hurry.  However, he’s a true freshman with some obvious talent, and he deserves a chance to show what he can do (as does Martin).  This is, as I’ve said before, a transition season, although not everyone seems to understand that.

While leaving the stadium on Saturday after the WCU game, I overheard a Bulldog fan say, in a non-ironic way, that the loss to the Catamounts meant “we won’t go to the playoffs now.”  You don’t say…

One thing both quarterbacks must improve (and for that matter, their receiving corps): the Bulldogs currently have a pass completion rate of 35.4%.  While The Citadel doesn’t throw the ball a lot in this offense, it has to do better than that.  Completing less than 36% of your pass attempts is just horrendous.  If that percentage holds up, it would be the lowest completion percentage for a Bulldog squad since 1965.  Care to guess how many games that 1965 team won?

Two.

The Bulldogs will be Underdogs on Saturday, and deservedly so.  However, I’ll close this post by pointing out that there is hope for the game against UTC:

1)  Chattanooga, while improved, hasn’t really proven that it’s made a move to the next level in the Southern Conference, at least not yet.  Those two games against Appalachian State and Jacksonville State were both impressive in a lot of ways, but they were also both losses.  Last year The Citadel also lost a close game to Appalachian State at home, in overtime.  It did not lead to a winning season.

I’m not quite ready to buy stock in a team which to this point in the season has only beaten Eastern Kentucky (which has just one win on the season) and Western Carolina.

2)  The Bulldog offense may continue to struggle, but I find it hard to believe that the defense (particularly the DBs) will have two consecutive clunkers.  I think there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and sometime (hopefully soon) it will begin to show. Also, there is something to be said for regression to the mean.

We’ll find out Saturday.