2019 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on October 19, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Bob Mihalic will handle play-by-play, while Sam Wyche supplies the analysis.

It is also part of this week’s “ESPN College Extra” package, available on some cable/satellite systems. On DirecTV, the game will be broadcast on Channel 792.

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

Meet the Macdaddy

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

– Game preview on Furman’s website

– Preview from The Greenville News

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/16)

– Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/14)

– The Dogs:  Episode 8

There are two things fans going to the game definitely need to know. One is that Saturday is Furman’s Homecoming. The other, perhaps more momentous news: the Paladins are going to sell beer (and wine) at the stadium.

 

My thoughts on this are certainly not relevant to anyone, particularly Furman fans, since I am a graduate of The Citadel who doesn’t drink beer. Having said that, as this is my blog, I have a few observations.

  • “Patrons under 21 need to be accompanied by a parent” — surely this could have been worded better, unless they plan on serving any and all ‘patrons’, which would be problematic
  • Waiting until kickoff to start selling beer may not be a great idea, strictly on a logistics basis
  • You know selling beer at football games has become a full-fledged trend when Furman decides to start doing it

This appears to be a “soft opening”, as most (if not all) of the information surrounding the beer sales has originated from Twitter. Homecoming is either the ideal or worst time to debut this setup; I can’t decide which.

However, based on The Citadel’s experience selling beer at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I think the beer garden is a dubious proposition. If FU really wants to make money on selling beer (and wine), and also wants to use it as a way to bring people into the stadium who might otherwise not go to the game, then the school should simply sell it to folks sitting in the stands watching the game, just like any other concessions item.

Commit to the concept.

As for Furman’s attendance, which is almost certainly a factor in the decision to sell alcohol at football games, a quick review of the Paladins’ per-game attendance numbers since 2012.

  • 2012: 9,009*
  • 2013: 8,299
  • 2014: 7,229
  • 2015: 6,795*
  • 2016: 5,771
  • 2017: 7,775*
  • 2018: 6,139

*seasons in which The Citadel played at Paladin Stadium

The attendance for The Citadel’s 2015 game at Furman was 12,124. That is the largest attendance for any game at Paladin Stadium since 2011. The Bulldogs’ trip to Greenville in 2017 also produced the largest crowd for a Furman home game that season.

If you were wondering how Furman only averaged 6,795 fans per game in 2015 despite having 12,124 spectators show up for one of its five home matchups, the Paladins’ game against South Carolina State that season (a contest played in terrible weather conditions) had a total attendance of 1,022. Without even looking, I’m going to guess that is the lowest attendance in the history of Paladin Stadium.

At any rate, the decline in attendance for Furman over the last seven seasons is obviously of concern to its administration. Through three home games this year, Furman is averaging 6,281 fans. That number should increase following Saturday’s contest.

Brent Thompson confirmed on his Wednesday night radio show that Furman’s attendance numbers would be helped by an influx of about 450 freshman cadets. I was glad to hear that.

The Citadel has sent freshmen to several football games in recent years, a welcome development indeed. In the last five seasons, cadets have been bused to games at Wofford, Chattanooga, VMI, and (earlier this year) Georgia Tech.

A planned excursion to Samford in 2017 was scuttled by one of the now-annual hurricane evacuations, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trip to Birmingham in the next few years. Next season, Mercer could easily be on the agenda, along with a repeat journey to Wofford or VMI.

I believe this will be the third consecutive time The Citadel has sent cadets to Greenville for the Furman game.

Okay, let’s talk about “rivalries” for a moment. This is the part of the post where I probably make a lot of people mad, but so be it.

Let me say up front that these are just my opinions, I know they are just my opinions, and I’m undoubtedly a terrible person for having these opinions.

From Jeff Hartsell’s column earlier this week:

Does The Citadel have too many rivalry games?

During my weekly chat with former Citadel offensive lineman Kyle Weaver (esteemed host of The Citadel Grayline), I asked Kyle to rank the Bulldogs’ various rivals in football. Weaver, who played on The Citadel’s Southern Conference championship teams in 2015 and 2016, went with Wofford, Charleston Southern, Furman and VMI in roughly that order. Ask another Bulldog, and you might get the same four teams in a different order.

I think it is possible that if you asked any other graduate of The Citadel, you would not get the order Weaver listed. Not that he doesn’t have a right to his opinion – after all, he’s an alum, and he wore the uniform of both a cadet and a football player.

That said, I could not disagree with him more.

First, to be fair, I don’t really think a school can have “too many rivalry games”. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt Auburn or LSU. Besides, a team should treat every game it plays like it is a rivalry game anyway.

As far as The Citadel is concerned, the school has two traditional rivals in football – Furman and VMI.

Those two schools have a long history with The Citadel; for Furman, there is also geographic proximity, while VMI is a fellow military college with a similar mission. The three institutions have also been in the SoCon together since 1935 (excepting VMI’s decade-long stay in the Big South).

You can rank them 1A and 1B, with the order generally dependent on an individual alum’s background and/or age.

Wofford’s series with The Citadel is also a lengthy one, but for much of that span the two schools were not in the same NCAA division, much less the same conference. There was also a significant period of time (between 1959 and 1975) in which they only faced each other once. That is essentially an entire generation of games not played.

(Of course, Texas and Texas A&M might currently be testing the “skip a generation” thesis.)

If there is such a thing as a “secondary rivalry”, Wofford and The Citadel might qualify. The two schools are now both in the SoCon, but that wasn’t the case when at least two-thirds of living graduates of The Citadel were in college. In fact, through the 1991 season, The Citadel had actually played Presbyterian 16 more times.

This is an issue. When it comes to Bulldog opponents, Wofford is still associated in some people’s memories with PC and Newberry. That perceived grouping isn’t true anymore, to be sure, but the mental affiliation remains a factor.

However, the more recent history is also why I can understand how a younger graduate, particularly a football player, might have a different perspective. I completely respect that.

(A more intriguing question might be this one: is Wofford a rival of Furman?)

When it comes to Charleston Southern, though, few alumni of The Citadel consider that to be a rivalry of any kind.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it still applies: at most county fairs, there is a guy in a ‘dunk tank’ who insults people, hoping they will spend money on baseballs to throw at him. That basically describes Jamey Chadwell’s efforts at CSU in trying to develop a rivalry between the two schools.

Was he aided by certain members of the local media? Sure, to the point where it was almost embarrassing (“inner-city rivalry”). Was he tacitly supported by the CSU administration? Yes (on that issue; perhaps not on others).

Did he/they succeed? Well, no. There was no chance of that happening, really.

A natural rivalry has to develop organically. Schools with little in common and no real history (which is the case for The Citadel and Charleston Southern) are a lot less likely to develop a rivalry.

Ultimately, there has to be interest on both sides. In the case of The Citadel and CSU, I’m not convinced there is much interest on either side. If you doubt that, take a closer look at attendance figures.

Anderson University announced two weeks ago that it was starting a football program. In five years or so, I fully expect someone to claim Anderson and Furman (or Wofford) are “big rivals”.

As for The Citadel, I’m sure Erskine is next on deck in the rivalry sweepstakes…

Furman statistics of note (six games):

Furman Opponents
Points Per Game 37.50 19.83
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 269 207
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 6.90 5.34
Att-Comp-Int 108-64-4 194-130-6
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 7.85 5.35
Total Plays 387 413
Yards per play 7.19 5.35
Total punts 21 32
Punting Net Average 43.19 38.88
Penalties-Yards 25-231 33-242
Penalty yards per game 38.50 40.33
Time of Possession per game 32:14 27:46
Offensive plays per second 29.98 sec 24.20 sec
3rd Down Conversions 36-72 (50.00%) 34-82 (41.46%)
4th Down Conversions 3-5 (60.00%) 3-6 (50.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 8-4 10-5
Sacks-Yards Lost 12-59 10-67
Red Zone: Touchdowns 20/23 (87%) 12/20 (60%)
Turnover Margin 3 -3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 69.50% 50.12%

What follows are mostly random musings on the stats above, referencing the FCS national statistical rankings when appropriate.

One thing to keep in mind: two of Furman’s six games, and both of its losses, came against FBS competition (Georgia State and Virginia Tech). FU lost those two games by a total of 13 points — and frankly got jobbed on a terrible replay call against the Hokies, preventing a potential comeback.

The Paladins have triumphed over Charleston Southern (an easy win in the season opener), East Tennessee State (a tough defensive struggle), Mercer (a blowout victory at home), and Samford (a blowout victory on the road).

– Furman’s offense is second in all of FCS in both Red Zone scoring rate (a slightly overrated stat) and Red Zone TD rate (a very important stat). Only North Dakota State has a higher scoring rate in the Red Zone. The only team with a better TD rate in the Red Zone than the Paladins? North Dakota.

The Citadel’s offense is 30th nationally in Red Zone TD rate (72%). That ranks 2nd in the SoCon. Chattanooga (54%) has the lowest rate in the league (though that isn’t close to the dregs of the sub-division).

– The Paladins are 3rd in offensive yards per play, trailing only Kennesaw State and North Dakota State. The Bulldogs are in the bottom 20 in this statistic.

– Furman is 10th in offensive third down conversion rate (and also leads the SoCon, ahead of 13th-ranked Wofford). The Citadel is 54th.

– The Paladins are tied for 31st in turnover margin per game. The Citadel is tied for 57th.

VMI is 10th nationally, best in the league. Three conference squads (Mercer, Samford, and Western Carolina) are in the bottom 15.

– FU is 16th in time of possession. The Citadel is 2nd (just behind Yale; Wofford is 3rd).

Samford is last, but you knew that already. What you may not have known is that Mercer is next-to-last.

– After accounting for sacks, Furman’s defense allows almost the exact same yards per play on rushes as it does on pass attempts. It is uncanny.

That defensive yards per play allowed number is 40th-best nationally, second in the SoCon (behind ETSU). Princeton leads the category nationally, but has played fewer games against decidedly lesser competition than every other team in the top 50 save its fellow Ivy League schools.

The rest of the top five: Sam Houston State, Georgetown (this is the second year in a row the Hoyas have put up excellent defensive numbers), Kennesaw State, and South Dakota State.

The Citadel is in the bottom 30 in defensive yards allowed per play. Charleston Southern, a team both The Citadel and Furman have played, is fourth-worst in FCS, allowing just over seven yards per play.

– Furman is 2nd nationally in net punting. The Citadel is 7th, and may get its regular punter (Matthew Campbell) back this week. Gage Russell has done a fine job in Campbell’s absence, however.

– I was surprised that Furman’s opponents have only attempted six fourth-down conversions through six games.

As I noted in my review of the Western Carolina game, The Citadel is 15 for 21 (71.4%) converting 4th downs this year, ranking among the FCS leaders in both attempts (tied for 4th nationally) and conversions (3rd). Among teams with 10+ tries on fourth down, the Bulldogs are 4th in conversion percentage.

Furman starting quarterback Darren Grainger (6’4″, 195 lbs.) is a redshirt freshman from Conway who is having an excellent year for the Paladins. For the season, he is completing 59.6% of his passes, averaging 9.84 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 11 TD throws against just two interceptions.

Grainger also averages a little over nine rushing attempts per game (with a long of 33 yards). He has four rushing TDs. Last season, he played in four games for Furman, but did not see the field against The Citadel.

Running back Devin Wynn (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a junior from Greensboro, Georgia, is averaging 8.4 yards per carry this season. He had 217 rushing yards against Samford, and added a 61-yard TD reception just for good measure. Last season against the Bulldogs, Wynn had 86 rushing yards on just nine attempts.

Wynn, who also returns kicks for Furman, was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, as was wideout Thomas Gordon (6’0″, 178 lbs.). The senior from Charlotte leads the Paladins in receptions with 24, four of which have gone for touchdowns. He is averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

By sacred rule, I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who traditionally runs wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during any game against The Citadel, no matter who he is. This year, he is sophomore Ryan Miller (6’4″, 214 lbs.), who has TD receptions of 41 and 32 yards this season.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 292 lbs. The line has a lot of experience, although there does appear to be some question as to who will start at center.

Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 302 lbs.) is a redshirt junior who has also played center and tackle for the Paladins during his career. The native of Roswell, Georgia has made 28 starts during his career.

Lining up next to Kroeber is left tackle Bo Layton (6’7″, 287 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Knoxville who was a first-team all-SoCon pick after last season. The other starting tackle, Andy Godwin (6’4″, 283 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-conference pick. Godwin is a redshirt senior from Neptune Beach, Florida.

The player who lines up at noseguard is often an important factor in how a team defends the triple option. Furman’s starter at that position is mobile fire hydrant Taylor Hodge (5’9″, 255 lbs.). The sophomore has four starts this season. (Yes, I triple-checked the height/weight line.)

The Paladins’ defense is keyed by its linebackers. Senior “spur” Jordan Willis (6’0″, 207 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, and is second in tackles for loss. Willis had 11 stops in last year’s game versus The Citadel.

Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) had 15 sacks last season (including one against the Bulldogs) despite not starting a game. As a result, he was a first-team all-conference choice, and not surprisingly the sophomore from Ocala, Florida was a preseason first team all-league pick this year.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.), a junior from Rome, Georgia, was a preseason second-team all-SoCon pick.

Despite being third on the team in tackles so far this season, McKoy is actually listed as a backup on the two-deep at middle linebacker, behind Braden Gilby (6’2″, 233 lbs.). Gilby, a redshirt freshman from St. Petersburg (not the one in Russia), ranks second in tackles for the Paladins.

Free safety Bryan Okeh (6’4″, 216 lbs.) has the most starts of any Paladin defender (31). The senior from Powder Springs, Georgia intercepted his first career pass earlier this season against Mercer.

Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 188 lbs.), a junior from Inman, has made 16 consecutive field goals, a streak that dates back to last season. His career long is 53 yards. He was last season’s all-conference placekicker.

Atkins is also Furman’s punter and kickoff specialist. He is very good at those roles, too (some may remember his 81-yard punt against The Citadel last year). Matthew Campbell and Atkins are the two best punters in the league.

Furman’s primary punt returner is starting cornerback Amir Trapp (5’10”, 170 lbs.). Trapp, who began his college career at Clemson, is the son of former Tiger (and NFL defensive back/Olympic gold medalist) James Trapp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Greenville, per the National Weather Service: a 30%-60% chance of rain, with a high of 64 degrees. There is a 70% chance of showers in the evening.

The possibility of rain during the game has steadily increased over the course of the week (and the anticipated high temperature has fallen as well).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is an 18-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 53 1/2.

Through seven games, The Citadel is 2-5 ATS, with the over hitting twice.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 3 1/2 point favorite over East Tennessee State in a Thursday night game; Wofford is a 24 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; and Mercer is a 1 1/2 point favorite over VMI. Samford is off this week.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 40, with North Dakota State the favorite over Missouri State. Also of note: Kennesaw State is a 37 1/2 point road favorite over Presbyterian.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. The Paladins are 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 16% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 17.

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

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Idaho State 12th, Kennesaw State 16th, Central Arkansas 20th, North Carolina A&T 24th, Elon 28th, Towson 31st, Incarnate Word 35th, Central Connecticut State 38th, Jacksonville State 44th, Wofford 47th, McNeese State 50th, Florida A&M 54th, Richmond 56th, Chattanooga 59th, William & Mary 60th, Samford 62nd, VMI 68th, Columbia 72nd, East Tennessee State 78th, South Carolina State 83rd, Campbell 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Mercer 93rd, Gardner-Webb 94th, Davidson 97th, Lafayette 104th, Western Carolina 111th, LIU 117th, Jacksonville 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Furman’s notable alumni include Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, physicist Charles Townes, and journalist Eleanor Beardsley.

– Future non-conference FBS opponents for Furman include Tennessee (in 2020), North Carolina State (2021), Clemson (2022 and 2025), South Carolina (2023), and Mississippi (2024). The Paladins also have home-and-home series scheduled with Colgate and North Carolina A&T, and play at Kennesaw State in 2023 (I believe that is the return game for a 2016 matchup).

– Furman’s roster includes 34 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: South Carolina (18 players), Florida (12), North Carolina (10), Tennessee (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (2), Texas (2), Virginia (2), and one each from California and Illinois.

The 18 Palmetto State products on the Paladins’ squad represent 16 different high schools, with two each from Southside Christian (in Simpsonville) and St. Joseph’s (Greenville).

However, in what can only be described as a colossal error in recruiting, none of the Paladins are from legendary mega-gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The hopes of Furman’s football program, whether modest or monstrous, will be forever doomed if Clay Hendrix and the rest of his coaching staff continues to ignore the incredible talents who wear the famed maroon and orange.

– 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 almost exactly the same as the depth chart from last week. The only change is that Clay Harris (now presumably healthy) is again listed as the projected starter at B-back.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-10 for games played on October 19. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1912: The Bulldogs edged Porter Military Academy, 66-0. C.D. Gibson and Billy Folger each scored three touchdowns for The Citadel. I’ve written about this one before. The reporter covering the game for The News and Courier wrote that Porter was “plucky” and claimed the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. There is no telling what he would have said if the contest had actually been close. The paper also ran an advertisement for castor oil with the tag line “Children like it — it does ’em good”, so there was clearly a severe lack of editorial control at the local newspaper during this era.
  • 1957: On a chilly evening at Johnson Hagood Stadium, an estimated 11,000 spectators watched The Citadel shut out Richmond, 26-0. Bobby Schwarze threw three TD passes, two to Paul Maguire and one to Joe Chefalo. Fullback Ed Dzanis scored the other TD on a one-yard run. Dzanis also intercepted a pass, as did Barry Thomas (who led the Bulldogs in rushing, with 85 yards on eight carries).
  • 1963: The Citadel prevailed over Arkansas State, 10-9. Pat Green’s 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play proved decisive. Arkansas State had taken the lead with 36 seconds to play, but four completed passes from Wade St. John (three to Wes Matthews, one to Vince Petno) set up Green’s heroics. The Bulldogs’ lone TD came on a 72-yard run by Converse Chellis, aided by a block from Joe Missar.
  • 1968: The Bulldogs won a Parents’ Day affair over VMI, 13-8. Tony Passander threw for one TD and ran for the other. The touchdown pass was an 80-yarder to Tom Sanchez, and was at the time the longest in school history. The Citadel’s defense forced three turnovers — a pass interception by Billy Watson and fumble recoveries by Eddie Watkins and Joe Isaac.

This will not be an easy game for The Citadel. Furman is probably the SoCon’s best team (and has certainly performed in that manner to this point in the season). The Bulldogs surely feel better about themselves after a solid victory over Western Carolina, but the Paladins present a far more imposing challenge.

However, it isn’t an impossible task. The Citadel has to play near its best, but the Bulldogs don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be outstanding.

I think a big key to the game is for The Citadel to control the clock on offense and avoid an early turnover. If the weather becomes a factor, as increasingly appears to be the case, ball security is paramount (even more so than usual).

Defensively, the Bulldogs must prevent big plays (occasionally a problem this season for The Citadel) and take advantage of any Paladin mistakes, as there aren’t likely to be many. Finding a way to put pressure on Grainger, a mobile QB protected by a fine offensive line, will be very difficult. It will also be necessary.

If the Bulldogs’ special teams could pull off a couple of game-changing plays, that would be very handy as well.

Are all of those points obvious? Yes. Then again, football is frequently obvious.

I hope the Bulldogs play well on Saturday. I also think they will.

Game Review, 2019: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo Gallery, The Post and Courier

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Stats of note:

The Citadel Ch. Southern
Field Position* 35.17 (+9.31) 25.86 (-9.31)
Success Rate* 36.67% 27.94%
Big plays (20+ yards) 1 9
Finishing drives (average points)** 6.5 2.5
Turnovers 1 1
Expected turnovers 0.72 1.82
Possessions* 12 14
Points per possession* 1.83 0.93
Offensive Plays* 60 68
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 3.57 6.00
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 13.17 5.22
Yards/play* 4.53 5.59
3rd down conversions* 3 of 13 5 of 15
4th down conversions 1 for 1 0 for 2
Red Zone TD%** 2 for 2 0 for 3
Net punting 37.6 32.0
Time of possession 36:07 23:53
TOP/offensive play 34.40 seconds 21.07 seconds
Penalties 7 for 57 9 for 41
1st down passing 1/2, 54 yards, TD, sack 4/11, 64 yards
3rd and long passing 0/1 4/10, 92 yards
4th down passing 0/0 0/1
1st down yards/play* 5.00 5.54
3rd down average yards to go* 6.69 8.53
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 7 6

*does not include The Citadel’s final drive of game
**does not include Charleston Southern’s last drive of first half

Random musings on the game:

– I’m going to start with the biggest question I had after the game, easily.

Why on earth did The Citadel go for two points after its third TD? I absolutely did not (and do not) understand that move. There is no reason to go for two there.

The percentage play is definitely to kick the PAT. You want to force the other team to (eventually) make a two-point conversion to tie the game. Even if the Bulldogs had been successful, it would still have been a two-score contest.

It could have been a really damaging decision. The safety helped alleviate things in the end, but still.

– The Citadel’s offense wasn’t particularly sharp last night, which perhaps shouldn’t have been all that surprising, given the injury situation. Charleston Southern’s defense definitely deserves credit for holding the Bulldogs at bay through long stretches of the game, but there was a noticeable lack of cohesion on that side of the ball by the Cadets.

Some of that can be attributed to employing a different quarterback, though Brian Murdaugh certainly acquitted himself well in his first career start. He committed no turnovers (indeed, The Citadel’s only TO came on special teams), and made some tough runs. He made a fine pass on the run to Raleigh Webb for a TD.

Ultimately, the Bulldogs have to improve on first down (so they can improve on third down) once conference season rolls around, which happens to be next Saturday.

– The Bulldogs’ offensive success rate was its lowest in four games, though comparable to its numbers against Elon and Georgia Tech.

– The Citadel’s defense was outstanding most of the evening. The Bulldogs gave up too many big plays, but only one of them directly or indirectly resulted in a touchdown. The Citadel allowed its lowest success rate (by far) of the season versus CSU.

Willie Eubanks picked off a pass, the first of the year for The Citadel. Eubanks had an excellent game, with nine tackles (including a sack). Three of his tackles came on the last three offensive plays of the game for CSU, a significant part of a great goal-line stand by the Bulldogs.

Marquise Blount also stood out for the Bulldogs, tying Eubanks for the team lead in tackles, including 2 1/2 tackles for loss.

– Against Samford next week, The Citadel’s D needs to convert at least couple of those near-miss interceptions it had versus CSU into picks.

– Matthew Campbell’s “bobble the ball, then kick it 62 yards and have it downed at the 1-yard line” punt was one of the plays of the game. Massive credit should also go to Ryland Ayers for hustling down to bat the ball away from the goal line.

The next play was the bad snap/safety that gave the Bulldogs a two-score cushion, which they never relinquished. That doesn’t happen if CSU isn’t backed up to its own 1.

– 49 players participated in the game for The Citadel. That matches the total for the Towson contest. There were 48 Bulldogs who saw action versus Elon. Against Georgia Tech (according to the game summary, anyway), just 35 Bulldogs played.

Okay, let’s talk about Autry Denson’s night…

First, he more or less blew off a handshake with Brent Thompson after the game. It was not a great look.

That was followed up with this postgame quote:

We were the better team again tonight, I’ll stand behind that. The frustration is not with my guys, the frustration again is with the things we can’t control.

This is Denson’s first time as a college head coach. He’ll soon learn there are quite a few things he can probably control, including:

  • Playing the wrong guy at quarterback for the better part of three quarters
  • The consecutive dead-ball personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the Red Zone by the Bucs’ defense that helped the Bulldogs score their second touchdown
  • The sequence in the third quarter when Denson spent almost the entirety of the play clock preceding a 4th-and-1 play arguing with the line judge, perhaps one reason why CSU failed to convert that fourth down try
  • The less-than-stellar clock management at the end of the first half, with the Buccaneers leaving a timeout on the board that they could have really used
  • The timeout Denson had to call to (apparently) calm down his team, with the play immediately following the timeout the one that led to the aforementioned back-to-back dead-ball penalties

Also, when your offense only scores one TD, has zero or negative yardage on exactly half of its plays (34 of 68), gives up a safety on a bad snap, throws a pick inside its own 30, averages only 2.5 points per drive inside the 40-yard line, and is stuffed on four out of five plays in which it needed only one yard for a first down and/or touchdown…well, when you add it all up, there is a strong possibility that your squad was not “the better team”.

I didn’t even mention the TD pass CSU allowed on a 1st-and-25 play, or the Bulldogs’ sizable advantages in field position and time of possession.

Additional thoughts:

– The attendance was 9,626, not terrible (in terms of recent trends) but not that good, either, for the only night game of the season. As has been discussed before, Charleston Southern is simply not a big draw for fans of the Bulldogs, and doesn’t bring that many supporters in its own right.

That is just one of many reasons why any kind of home-and-home scenario between the Bulldogs and Buccaneers would be ridiculous, and not in the best interests of The Citadel. It also confirms the idea that these two programs don’t really need to play every year, because this “rivalry” is simply not that big a deal in the Lowcountry, no matter what the administration at Charleston Southern would like people to believe.

In fact, there seemed to be a limited presence of Charleston media at Johnson Hagood Stadium last night. The local newspaper thought so much of the game that it sent its general sports columnist to Clemson to watch 533 different Tigers run up and down the field against Charlotte.

– Speaking of our friends in the fourth estate: enough of the “inner city rivalry” and “crosstown rivalry” descriptions. Setting aside the rivalry argument for a moment, in what galaxy is this series ever an “inner city” or “crosstown” competition?

C’mon.

– I liked the light blue jerseys/pants combo. To be honest, as a certified old fogey, I prefer the light blue jerseys/white pants look for home games. However, the general concept was solid.

Next week, the Bulldogs make the trek to suburban Birmingham to take on another set of Bulldogs, Samford. The preview for that game will be posted later this week.

This week’s pictures include no 4th-quarter shots and very few 3rd-quarter photos, due to cellphone battery issues. The lack of pictures in those periods will hopefully not endanger democracy as we know it.

Game Review, 2018: Wofford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– AP game story

– School release

– Video from WCSC-TV (postgame discussion with Brent Thompson)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

Let’s look at some stats:

Category The Citadel Wofford
Field Position* +11 -11
Success Rate* 26.1% 32.0%
Explosiveness* 0.719 1.745
Finishing drives 4.67 (3) 7.0 (2)
Turnovers 0 3
Possessions* 12 13
Offensive Plays 66 53
Yards/rush 3.9 7.7
Yards/pass attempt 2.1 2.9
Yards/play 3.6 6.9
3rd down conversions 2/16 4/10
4th down conversions 4/6 0/0
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 100.0 (2/2)
Net punting 42.4 35.8
Time of possession 32:38:00 27:22:00
TOP/offensive play 29.67 seconds 30.98 seconds
Penalties 2/20 yards 3/45 yards
1st down passing 0/1 3/5, 23 yards
3rd and long passing 0/5 1/1, 3 yards
4th down passing 1/2, 23 yards 0/0
1st down yards/play* 3.75 4.75
3rd down average yards to go 7.9 7.4

* These statistics do not include the final play of the first half, because it wasn’t a true drive/scoring attempt (although Lorenzo Ward came surprisingly close to turning it into one).

Those first five categories are the “Five Factors”, which I’ve written about before. This season, I’ll be tabulating them on a game-by-game basis (at least for SoCon matchups).

It is not easy to win games with an offensive Success Rate south of 30%. As a comparison, in 2016 the Bulldogs had a Success Rate in league play of 45.4%.

The lack of efficiency is reflected in the abysmal third down conversion rate and the Bulldogs’ yards per play numbers.

Wofford wasn’t much better, thanks to an extended run of stops by the Bulldogs that began midway through the second quarter and continued until the end of the third period. At one point, the Terriers ran 19 offensive plays, only one of which could have been considered successful.

The coaching staff should be credited with several excellent in-game adjustments, including a three-man front and a lot of shifting prior to the snap (which reminded me of what UNC did to the Bulldogs in Chapel Hill two seasons ago).

However, before then the Terriers had already created multiple “explosive” plays (two of which went for TDs). Wofford came close to doubling up the Bulldogs in yards per play.

Why was this game close, then? Well, turnovers had a lot to do with it, obviously, but The Citadel also had a significant edge in field position, thanks mostly to a fine display of punting by freshman Matthew Campbell.

In something of an ironic twist, arguably the only one of Campbell’s eight punts that wasn’t stellar ended up being his most beneficial, as the football bounced off an unsuspecting Terrier and into the grateful arms of Keyonte Sessions. That recovery set up the tying touchdown.

Random observations:

– Jordan Black was only 1 for 11 passing on Saturday night. That is a rough line, but many of those passes came in low-percentage situations:

  • Five of them came on 3rd down and eight yards or more
  • One was on 2nd-and-17 (and was dropped)
  • One was on 4th-and-4 (that was the completion)

Those were his first seven throws. All of them came in “passing down” situations.

Brent Thompson mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that in hindsight, he wished there had been more “shots down the field”. I’m assuming he meant throwing on first down, or perhaps in 2nd-and-short (or 3rd-and-short) situations, downs in which a pass wouldn’t be an obvious call.

I would also add that The Citadel shouldn’t wait to throw until the offense is in good field position. For example, I wouldn’t mind throwing down the field even while inside the Bulldogs’ own 30-yard line. Black has demonstrated in the past that he can throw the football with accuracy; I would like to see him get a chance to do so in better down-and-distance circumstances.

I’m not an advocate of throwing more often, but I do think The Citadel needs a higher percentage of its passes to come on “standard” downs, rather than passing downs. One way to do that, as I’ve mentioned before, is to have a more aggressive fourth-down mentality, which gives a playcaller more “wiggle room”.

– Speaking of fourth down, the Bulldogs were 4 for 6 converting those downs against Wofford. I agreed with all six decisions to go for it.

I actually think there should have been a seventh, late in the second quarter on 4th-and-4 from the Wofford 40-yard line. Thompson elected to punt, which struck me as a bit conservative.

However, that decision was ultimately rewarded by a questionable playcall from the Terriers. I am not sure why, up 21-0 late in the first half and getting the ball to start the third quarter, Wofford’s coaching staff thought passing from the Terriers’ own 14-yard line was a good idea.

Well, it was a good idea from Noah Dawkins’ point of view, anyway.

– Much of the teeth-gnashing in the stands on the visitors’ side came from watching the Bulldogs try to tackle. That has to improve against Chattanooga, and every game going forward.

– I didn’t have any major issues with the late-game time management decisions (and I can be a very tough grader in that area).

The way I look at it is this: The Citadel had not had a sustained offensive drive during the entire game prior to the last possession. The Bulldogs basically had to ham-and-egg their way down the field to even get a chance at a tying touchdown.

Given that, I am satisfied with four shots from the five-yard line, whatever it took to get there. The Citadel had to throw on the first three downs because of its lack of timeouts, but I couldn’t find any real fault with how the timeouts had been employed (maybe Thompson could have called the first one on the play before he wound up using it, but that was marginal).

I’ve seen suggestions that The Citadel could have run the ball towards the sideline and gone out of bounds if it didn’t result in a TD, but I’m dubious that would have worked, especially as Wofford would have likely anticipated a boundary rush.

The only down that a run was even close to a feasible percentage play was the last one, and even then you’re talking about five yards.

Hey, they had four tries. It just didn’t work out.

– That was probably the last time Miles Brown will play against The Citadel (unless the two teams meet again in the FCS playoffs). He has been one of the best opposition players the Bulldogs have faced in the last few years of SoCon action. Brown’s stats might be relatively modest (as is often the case for a nosetackle), but there is no doubting his impact on the game.

– I mentioned this on Twitter, but I wanted to reiterate how impressed I was with the Aron Spann fan club. That was quite a turnout.

I wish I had been more impressed with the P.A. announcer, who kept pronouncing Spann’s last name as “Spahn” for some reason. C’mon, he’s local and went to Dorman High School. You’ve got to get that right.

– Another thing Wofford needs to get right is its concessions situation. This was a significant problem two years ago when The Citadel played at Gibbs Stadium, and it was a problem again on Saturday.

Long lines snaked around the area behind the visitors’ stands, as fans waited in the heat to make their respective orders. Apparently, things were just as bad on the home side.

By this time, the folks running the gameday setup at Wofford have to know that The Citadel is going to bring a big crowd (game attendance: 8,930, which included a lot of folks clad in light blue).

– Internet fun…

I was highly amused to read one unhappy Wofford fan’s reaction to several hundred members of the Corps of Cadets making an appearance in Spartanburg:

I really wish Wofford had not allowed them to bring their entire corps of cadets up to the game…it’s supposed to be a home field advantage!

Another Terriers supporter pointed out that restricting access to fans (or cadets, I guess) might not be such a great idea, which drew this reaction from the outraged Wofford partisan:

Actually, I think limiting visiting fans access to a certain amount is a GREAT idea! We are a small school and don’t have a ton of fans. But we still want to keep a home field advantage for our team in home games. So limit the number of tickets for visiting fans, both paid and comp. It’s a space thing, our stadium capacity is not huge, we don’t have a lot of space, and we’d like to reserve a large percentage of that space for our Wofford fans…

You have to admit, limiting the number of opposing fans would probably solve the issues Wofford has with concessions. Could help with parking, too.

Let’s all agree not to tell him that only about one-fourth of the Corps was actually at the game, though.

(The real takeaway: the freshman cadets in the stands did a fine job supporting the team.)

– Next for the Bulldogs: the home opener, against Chattanooga. I’ll write something about that game later in the week.

The pictures are always bad. These, however, are particularly lousy (and are not annotated). I did not take many game shots after the first quarter, partly because my cellphone battery got a little low, and partly because the sun made taking pictures on the visitors’ side a challenge.

(Also: it was really hot. I got worn out just watching the game; I can’t imagine what it was like to actually play in it.)

I’ll try to do better next week on the photo front, but no one should get their hopes up.