College Football Week 9, 2021: Thursday notes and observations

On Monday, I wrote about statistics — lots and lots of statistics, for The Citadel, Mercer, and the FCS in general

The Brent Thompson Show (10/27/21)

The Citadel’s game notes for the contest against Mercer

Mercer’s game notes for its matchup versus The Citadel

SoCon weekly release

Hey, basketball season is right around the corner — and The Citadel’s Hayden Brown is the SoCon preseason player of the year

Broadcast information

Mercer at The Citadel, to be played on Sansom Field at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 30, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Play-by-play will be handled by Dave Weinstein, while Jason Kempf supplies the analysis. Anna Witte is the sideline reporter.

The contest can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. Other stations carrying the game include WQXL in Columbia (100.7 FM/1470 AM) and WDXY in Sumter (105.9 FM/1240 AM).

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. 

“Live Stats” for the game

Roster review:

–  Of the 112 players on The Citadel’s online roster, 61 are from South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (18 players), Florida (11), North Carolina (9), Virginia (4), Alabama (2), Texas (2), and one each from New York, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– There are 99 players on Mercer’s online roster. Of those, 73 are from Georgia, the highest concentration of players from one state on any SoCon squad. The remaining Bears are from the following states: Florida (6 players), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), South Carolina (3), Tennessee (2), and one each from California, Hawai’i, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia.

Freshman outside linebacker Emil Hovde is from Gothenburg, Sweden.

The three Palmetto State products on Mercer’s roster are offensive lineman Ni Mansell, a freshman from Anderson who played at Westside High School; defensive lineman Tre Lanham, a graduate student from Edgefield who began his career at Presbyterian; and edge rusher Jordan Williams, a Columbia native. Williams, of course, played for The Citadel as an undergraduate.

Lanham and Williams are two of fifteen transfers on Mercer’s team. Notably, all of them transferred in from four-year colleges and universities. Two of them did attend junior colleges, but they subsequently went to another four-year school before arriving in Macon.

This is Hall of Fame Weekend at The Citadel. There are six enshrinees this year, including four former football players — Carlos Avalos, Brian Baima, Ralph Ferguson, and honorary inductee Al Kennickell. The other members of the 2021 class are baseball player Bo Betchman and longtime supporter Julian Frasier.

FCS lines are hard to come by these days. If they pop up before Saturday, I’ll probably make a quick post. If I think of anything else worth mentioning, I’ll throw that in too.

College Football Week 9, 2021: Monday notes and observations

Today’s post is exclusively focused on statistics. Lots and lots of statistics… 

First, my working spreadsheet, which includes a myriad of on-field stats along with a tab for attendance: FCS statistics through games of October 23, 2021

Attendance

Jackson State continues to lead FCS in attendance, averaging 37,886 fans per game in three home contests. Montana, James Madison, Montana State, and Jacksonville State round out the top five.

Furman, Western Carolina, and The Citadel rank 25-26-27 in FCS attendance, with the Bulldogs drawing an average of 9,879 fans in their four appearances at Johnson Hagood Stadium. ETSU ranks 30th, while Mercer is 39th.

The average attendance for an FCS home game so far this season is 7,529. 

Norfolk State is 10th nationally in home attendance, averaging 15,364 in two contests, including a Homecoming game against Virginia University of Lynchburg (more on the Dragons later in the week). That matchup versus VUL drew 16,716 spectators, a total that was not enough as far as NSU head coach Dawson Odums was concerned:

As far as quotes about attendance go, that one is right at the top…

I’ll be comparing the on-field numbers for The Citadel and Mercer while also surveying the FCS landscape from a statistical perspective. As always, keep in mind there are 128 teams in FCS.

Offense

– Southeastern Louisiana is averaging .651 points per play, tops in FCS. The next best four teams are (in order) South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Davidson, and Sam Houston State.

Mercer is 15th (.501). The Citadel is 68th (.368).

The FCS average is .378 points per offensive play. Lehigh, at .092, is last in the subdivision, behind Bucknell, Morgan State, LIU, and Cal Poly.

– Mercer is 10th nationally in offensive yards per play (6.43), while The Citadel is 66th (5.38). The national average for FCS offenses is 5.39.

Eastern Washington leads FCS in yards per play, at 7.54, followed by Southeastern Louisiana, South Dakota State, Nicholls State, and Fordham. East Tennessee State is 12th.

In 218th and last place in the subdivision is Grambling State (3.27), with the rest of the bottom five consisting of Bucknell, Lehigh, Houston Baptist, and Wagner.

– Nicholls State is the national leader in adjusted yards per rush (note: “adjusted” means sacks are included in passing totals, not rushing, unlike the NCAA’s official stats). The Colonels are averaging 6.49 yards per tote. Others finding success on the ground include South Dakota State, North Dakota State, Abilene Christian, and Holy Cross. ETSU is 9th, while Mercer is 14th (5.59). The Citadel is 54th (4.86). The average across FCS is 4.74.

Georgetown has the worst adjusted yards per rush (2.88). Also struggling in this category: Robert Morris, Alabama State, Cal Poly, and Grambling State.

– Davidson is averaging 10.32 adjusted yards per pass attempt, tops in FCS. It should be noted that the Wildcats have thrown the fewest passes in the subdivision (65). However, Davidson is making those throws count, averaging 17.1 yards per completion (also best in FCS) while completing a very solid 64.6% of its attempts (with 9 TDs/4 INTs). As a result, Scott Abell’s squad also leads the nation in adjusted pass efficiency.

Other teams with outstanding Y/PA numbers include Eastern Washington, Southeastern Louisiana, Prairie View A&M, and Norfolk State. Mercer (7th) and The Citadel (13th) also fare well.

The bottom five: Lehigh (last), Grambling State, Bucknell, Houston Baptist, and Morgan State.

– One way to have success throwing the football is to avoid being sacked!

North Dakota’s quarterbacks have only been sacked three times this season, while attempting 263 pass attempts. UND’s 1.1% sack rate against leads FCS. Prairie View A&M is second, followed by Cornell, Furman, and Dayton. Samford is 8th, while Chattanooga is 12th.

Mercer is 73rd in sack rate against, close to the national average of 6.4%, while The Citadel is 117th (11.1%). That is a very poor stat for the Bulldogs. Lamar has the worst sack rate against (14.7%).

– Davidson runs the football on 83.3% of its offensive plays from scrimmage, the most in FCS. Kennesaw State, The Citadel, North Dakota State, and Lamar are also in the top 5, while Wofford is 7th and Mercer is 8th (64.0%). Three other SoCon outfits (Chattanooga, ETSU, and Furman) are in the top 30. 

Conversely, Presbyterian rushes the ball on a per-play basis less than any other team (28.4%). Other pass-happy squads include Western Illinois, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, and Dixie State.

– Southeastern Louisiana has an FCS-best 59.52% third down conversion rate, ahead of Davidson, Eastern Washington, Merrimack, and Brown. East Tennessee State is 6th, and Mercer is 14th (45.65%). The Citadel ranks 29th overall, at 42.57%. The average for FCS teams is 37.1%.

Lehigh is last in offensive third down conversion rate, at 19.54% (yes, the Mountain Hawks have the nation’s worst offense). Other teams that can’t put together consistent drives: Wagner, Eastern Illinois, New Hampshire, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

– Chattanooga is the only FCS team to have successfully converted all of its fourth-down attempts. Of course, the Mocs have only gone for it three times, tied for the fewest in the country. Kennesaw State is 15-for-17 (88.24%), second-best (and extremely impressive and efficient when considering volume and success rate).

Mercer is tied for 12th nationally (71.43%), albeit on only seven tries. The Citadel is tied for 71st (44.00%). The Bulldogs have attempted 25 fourth down conversions, 4th-most in the subdivision.

Presbyterian, as you would probably guess, is far and away the leader in fourth-down tries, with 49 — but the Blue Hose have only converted 17 times (34.69%). Other teams that have been more than willing to go for it on fourth down include Stetson (29 attempts), Central Connecticut State (28), and Monmouth (24).

Lehigh made 2 of 3 fourth-down conversion tries last week, the first two successful attempts for LU all season. The Mountain Hawks are now 2 for 13 on fourth down overall.

– Presbyterian naturally has the nation’s highest go rate (92.5%), since the Blue Hose have only punted four times all season and are the only team in FCS not to attempt a field goal. Stetson is second in this category (55.8%), followed by Davidson, Merrimack, and Southeastern Louisiana. The Citadel is 6th (43.9%).

Mercer (15.2%, 99th overall) is among the more conservative outfits in the subdivision, but there are several even less inclined to go for it. Eastern Kentucky has a go rate of only 5.5%, while Chattanooga is second-lowest (5.6%). Montana State, Grambling State, and Bobby Petrino’s Missouri State squad also prefer punting and field goal kicking, when given the choice.

– Speaking of field goal kicking, Ethan Ratke of James Madison leads FCS in field goals made (18) and attempted (20). Ratke now has 90 career field goals, most all-time in FCS. Last week, he made five FGs in JMU’s 22-10 victory over Delaware.

Also worth mentioning: Duquesne has the most field goals without a miss (14) in the subdivision right now, despite having used four different kickers.

As mentioned earlier, Presbyterian has not attempted a field goal. Bucknell, Butler, Merrimack, and Davidson are all 1 for 2 on FG tries. 

Teams struggling to put the ball through the uprights: Morgan State is 1 for 8, Campbell is 2 for 10, and Cal Poly is 3 for 10. On average, FCS kickers are converting attempts at a 67.6% clip.

– By my numbers, Central Arkansas currently has the nation’s most effective Red Zone offense, at 6.22 estimated points per Red Zone possession (my invented acronym: EPRP). UCA has a TD rate of 87.5%. The rest of the top five: Holy Cross, Southeastern Louisiana, Youngstown State, and Western Illinois.

VMI is the highest-ranked SoCon offense, at 22nd. The Citadel is 38th (5.15 EPRP), with a TD rate of 72.0%), while Mercer is 53rd (4.96 EPRP, TD rate of 69.2%). The national average is 4.76 EPRP (60.1% TD rate). 

The least efficient Red Zone offenses: Lehigh, Northwestern State, LIU, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and Cal Poly.

– Samford has the nation’s fastest offense, at 18.38 seconds per offensive play. It is a good thing, too, as SU is last in FCS in average time of possession (23:15). Other teams lining up in a hurry to snap the football: Presbyterian, Charleston Southern, Eastern Washington, and Austin Peay. 

Western Carolina is 11th-fastest, VMI 23rd, Mercer 51st (27.11 seconds/play), and The Citadel 57th (27.19).

The FCS average is 27.0 seconds per play. The slowest offense? Delaware State (32.85).

– Time of possession isn’t strictly about offense, but I’ll stick this paragraph here.

Alcorn State is the national leader in average time of possession (35:24), followed by Kennesaw State, Central Connecticut State, Merrimack, and Sacramento State. ETSU is 10th, Chattanooga 14th. The Citadel is 32nd (31:51), while Mercer is 55th (30:40).

Defense

– North Dakota State is the national leader in points allowed per play, at just .0158 (the Bison give up just 9.0 points per game). Montana State is just behind NDSU (0.159), followed by Harvard, Jackson State, and Montana.

ETSU is 21st. Mercer is 52nd (.377), while The Citadel is 111th (.522).

– Jackson State leads FCS in yards allowed per play (3.63), with James Madison, Princeton, Harvard, and Prairie View A&M also in the top five. Chattanooga is 26th, while Mercer is 28th (4.89). The Citadel is 121st, at 6.73 yards allowed per play; the FCS average for defenses is 5.56.

Southern Utah is allowing 7.53 yards per play, worst in the subdivision. The bottom five also includes Youngstown State, Hampton, LIU, and Western Illinois.

– James Madison is tops in adjusted yards allowed per rush, at 2.67, ahead of Princeton, Harvard, Sam Houston State, and Villanova.

Chattanooga leads the SoCon in this category, at 27th. Mercer is one spot behind the Mocs at 28th (4.27). The Citadel is 102nd (5.47). The subdivision defensive average is 4.85.

Worst in FCS: Lamar (6.66, ooh), Youngstown State, Alabama A&M, and Western Illinois.

Tangent

Princeton and Harvard played each other last week, a five-OT marathon that turned into a complete officiating debacle — one that might have handed the Ivy League title to the Tigers. While there are plenty of jokes that could be made about not feeling sorry for Harvard, I do feel badly for the Crimson players. By all rights, they won that game, only to have it taken away by a terrible decision, and one that wasn’t of the in-the-moment variety, either. 

One other thing: as indicated by the box score, the game was a bit of a train wreck even before the overtime periods. To be perfectly honest, Princeton and Harvard helped each other out a lot when it comes to their defensive statistics.

– Jackson State’s defense is also outstanding in adjusted yards per pass, leading the way at 3.61 yards allowed per pass play. That stat includes sack yardage, and the Tigers have been really good at sacking the quarterback this season (second in sack rate nationally behind North Dakota State).

Prairie View A&M is second in adjusted yards per pass allowed, ahead of Princeton, Sacred Heart, and Harvard. Chattanooga is 23rd, ETSU 24th. Mercer is 34th (5.59), while The Citadel is 123rd (8.26), just outside the bottom five.

The five teams with more yards per pass allowed than the Bulldogs: Southern Utah (an FCS-worst 9.63), Central Connecticut State, LIU, Hampton, and Brown.

– The teams that are best at making sure the quarterback goes down, and goes down hard, are NDSU (12.6% sack rate) and Jackson State, followed by Stephen F. Austin, Harvard, and Florida A&M. The Citadel is just 107th nationally (4.3%), but Mercer is actually worse (122nd, 3.2%). The national average for sack rate is 6.3%. 

Butler (2.1%, last), Idaho State, Drake, Maine, and VMI bring up in the rear in this category.

– Yale has the nation’s best defensive third down conversion rate, at 21.3%. James Madison, North Dakota State, Florida A&M, and Prairie View A&M are all in the top five; Chattanooga is 8th.

Mercer is 70th (38.8%). The Citadel is 111th (46.5%). The average across the subdivision is 38.0%. 

Southern Utah is allowing third down conversions at a rate of 54.2%, worst in FCS. Other defenses having trouble getting off the field: Jacksonville State, LIU, Illinois State, and Wofford.

– So far this season, Furman’s defense has faced the most fourth down conversion attempts (6) without allowing a first down. Richmond is also perfect in this department (0 for 5). St. Thomas has given up just 1 of 10 fourth down tries against it, while Harvard has only surrendered 2 of 17.

The Citadel is tied for 79th (4 of 7, 57.1%). Mercer is tied for 125th (10 of 12, 83.3%). Bethune-Cookman has allowed 11 of 12; the national average is basically a 50-50 proposition (49.97%).

Among teams that have not played Presbyterian, the one to have faced the most fourth down attempts against it is William and Mary (24 tries by its opponents, 13 of which have succeeded).

– Havoc Rate

Jackson State is, not surprisingly, #1 in this key stat (24.84%). Stephen F. Austin, James Madison, Florida A&M, and Alabama State are the other schools in the top tive.

Chattanooga is 19th, while ETSU is 41st and Mercer is 59th (15.85%). The Citadel is fifth-worst (10.71%), ahead of only Wofford, LIU, Illinois State, and Southern Utah (at the bottom with a Havoc Rate of 9.88%).

– Lafayette is the standard-bearer in FCS for rate of passes defensed (21.51%). Others high on the list: Eastern Kentucky, Stephen F. Austin, Alabama State, and Penn. VMI is 11th.

Morgan State is last in PD rate (6.64%), with Houston Baptist, Brown, Southern Utah, and Wagner at the bottom of the table.

Mercer is 54th in passes defensed (14.69%). The Citadel is 102nd (11.88%). 

– Now, here is something vaguely mind-blowing. Morgan State, despite being last nationally in rate of passes defensed, has more interceptions this season than Lafayette (7 to 5). How is that possible?

Well, it is possible because Morgan State has an interception-to-PD rate of exactly 50%, which is just staggering. That is the highest rate in the country, and by quite a lot (Montana at 40.0% is second).

Meanwhile, Lafayette’s INT/PD rate is just 12.5%, one of the lowest marks in FCS. The Leopards have been unlucky. In a typical season, a little over one in every five passes defensed is intercepted (and that is true this year as well; the FCS national average is 20.76%). 

Lafayette has a 2-5 record, but two of those losses could easily have been victories — close defeats at the hands of New Hampshire and Fordham. In those two games, the Leopards broke up 16 total passes, but did not have any interceptions. Just a pick here or there in either contest might have been the difference.

A few SoCon teams have been fortunate in this respect. Chattanooga’s INT/PD rate is 7th nationally, while Furman’s rate is 8th and Mercer 15th. The Citadel is 62nd (20.83%), picking off exactly as many passes as would be expected given its PD rate.

The worst INT/PD rate belongs to Lehigh (3.85%), because of course it does.

– Holy Cross has intercepted a pass every 16.0 opponent attempts, tops in FCS. St. Thomas, Chattanooga, Illinois State, and Villanova are the other teams in the top five. Mercer is 18th nationally (23.44), while The Citadel is 78th (40.4).

The bottom five: Lehigh (which has one interception this season, having faced 206 opponent throws), Howard, Wofford, Brown, and Tennessee Tech.

– By my numbers, Harvard has the nation’s best Red Zone defense, with an EPRP allowed of 2.44 and an opponent TD rate of just 18.8%. Dartmouth, North Dakota State, Kennesaw State, and Villanova also get the job done in this area.

Chattanooga is 11th in FCS, while The Citadel is 79th. Mercer is 119th, one of the Bears’ major weaknesses.

Western Carolina has an EPRP allowed of 6.3 (worst in the subdivision). Georgetown, Stetson, Lamar, and Brown have also been pliable defensively in the Red Zone.

Miscellaneous

– Montana continues to set the pace in net punting (44.76). The rest of the top five: Missouri State, Idaho State, The Citadel (fourth at 42.07), and Southern Illinois.

Mercer is 117th in net punting (31.47). The worst punting team in the country is the one that punts the least — Presbyterian is averaging 15.5 net yards for its four punts. The national average is 35.77.

– Bucknell is averaging 29.71 penalty yards per game, fewest in FCS. Other top squads at avoiding yellow flags: Princeton, Delaware, Wofford, and New Hampshire. Furman has the 6th-fewest penalty yards per contest. Mercer ranks 13th (38.43), and The Citadel 43rd (49.38).

The most penalized team, in terms of yardage, is Florida A&M (92.71). Incidentally, the six teams that have the most penalty yards assessed against them per game have a combined record of 28-13.

– Turnover margin: Alcorn State (+1.57 per game) is ranked first in FCS. Montana State is second, followed by Campbell, Chattanooga, and Harvard.

The Citadel is tied for 54th, while Mercer is tied for 94th. The worst turnover margin in the subdivision belongs to Presbyterian.

I’ve have more to say about The Citadel later in the week…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: returning starters in the SoCon

Other preseason posts from July:

One of the major storylines for the upcoming football season is the large number of experienced gridders who are returning to college this fall. The “free year” that was the F20/S21 school year has led to a glut of so-called “superseniors”, players in their sixth years (or fifth-year players who haven’t redshirted).

As a result of the extra year being granted, Clemson has at least two players (linebacker James Skalski and punter Will Spiers) who could conceivably play in 70 games during their college careers. That is just a ludicrous number of games for a college football player, but we live in ludicrous times.

Illinois has 22 superseniors, most in the country (the Illini also have 18 “regular” seniors). In February, the AP reported that over 1,000 superseniors were on FBS rosters, a number that has probably declined since then, but still obviously significant.

Information on FCS programs is sketchier, but there was a recent report confirming that Southern Illinois has 16 superseniors, which has to be close to the most in the subdivision, if not the most. Between Illinois and SIU, there are a lot of veteran pigskin collegians in the Land of Lincoln.

Incidentally, one of Southern Illinois’ superseniors is former Western Carolina running back Donnavan Spencer, who transferred from Cullowhee to Carbondale for the fall 2021 campaign.

All of this is reflected in sizeable “returning starters” lists among a lot of teams throughout the sport, including both the FBS and FCS. As an example, here are some numbers from the ACC and SEC, per Phil Steele’s 2021 College Football Preview:

  • Wake Forest: 20 returning starters (but with tough injury news over the last week)
  • North Carolina State: 19
  • Miami: 19 (and only lost 9 out of 70 lettermen)
  • Syracuse: 19
  • Arkansas: 19
  • North Carolina: 18
  • LSU: 18 (hopefully some of them will play pass defense this season)
  • Florida State: 17 (joined by a bunch of D-1 transfers)
  • Boston College: 17
  • Georgia Tech: 17
  • Vanderbilt: 17 (possibly not a positive)
  • Mississippi: 17

The team in those two leagues with the fewest returning starters is Alabama, with 11. Of course, the Tide had six players from last season’s squad picked in the first round of the NFL draft, so a bit of turnover in Tuscaloosa was inevitable. I suspect Nick Saban isn’t too worried about replacing them.

The returning production totals are unprecedented at the FBS level.

The top 10 includes several very interesting teams, including Louisiana-Lafayette, Arizona State, Nevada, and UCLA. It is somewhat incredible that Coastal Carolina has a returning production rate of 89% and doesn’t even crack the top 15.

Some of the teams at the bottom of this ranking are national powers that reload every year. Alabama was already mentioned, but the same is true for Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Florida.

BYU and Northwestern also had outstanding seasons last year (and combined for three first-round draft picks). The story wasn’t the same for Duke and South Carolina, however.

Okay, now time to talk about the SoCon. Who in the league is coming back this fall? An easier question to answer would be: who isn’t?

SoCon returning starters, Fall 2021

The spreadsheet linked above has 12 categories. A quick explanation of each:

  • F20/S21 Games Played: total number of games played by a team during the 2020-21 school year, both in the fall (F20) and the spring (S21)
  • F20/S21 Participants: the number of players who suited up during 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Starters: the number of different starters during 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Returning Participants: the number of returnees who played during 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Returning Starters: the number of returning starters from 2020-21
  • F20/S21 Returning Starters 2+: the number of returnees from 2020-21 who started at least two games
  • Spring 2021: total number of games played by a team in the spring (all conference games, except for VMI’s playoff matchup)
  • Spring 2021 Participants: the number of players who took the field during the spring
  • Spring 2021 Starters: the number of different starters during the spring
  • Spring Returning Participants: the number of returnees who played in the spring
  • Spring Returning Starters: the number of returning starters from the spring
  • Spring Returning Starters 2+: the number of returnees who started at least two games during the spring

Most of that needs no explanation. The idea of including a category for multiple starts was inspired by Chattanooga’s game against Mercer, when the Mocs fielded what was essentially a “B” team. UTC had 19 players who started that game, but did not start in any of Chattanooga’s other three spring contests.

There are a few players who started one game in the spring, but also started at least one game in the fall. They are listed as having started multiple games for F20/S21, of course, but not for the spring.

The list of starters does not include special teams players. Some programs list specialists as starters, but they generally are not treated as such from a statistical point of view, and for the sake of consistency I am only listing offensive and defensive starters.

Returnee stats are based on each school’s online football roster as of July 26 (the league’s Media Day). 

Players on current rosters who did not start in F20/S21, but who did start games in 2019, are not included as returning starters. There are two players from The Citadel who fit this description; undoubtedly there are a few others in the conference.

I also did not count any incoming transfers with prior starting experience. That is simply another piece to a team’s roster puzzle.

There is no doubt that transfers will have a major impact on the fall 2021 season. For example, Western Carolina has 15 players on its roster who arrived from junior colleges or other four-year schools following the spring 2021 campaign (the Catamounts have 26 transfers in all).

Five of the nine SoCon schools did not play in the fall. Thus, their overall numbers are the same as their spring totals (and are noted as such on the spreadsheet).

As I’ve said before, when it comes to the veracity of the game summaries, I think the athletic media relations folks at the SoCon schools did quite well for the most part, especially when considering how difficult staffing must have been at times during the spring. There were a few miscues, and in terms of data input, the participation charts seemed to cause the most problems.

Did Mercer start a game with no offensive linemen? Uh, no. Was a backup quarterback a defensive starter for Chattanooga? Nope. In three different contests, did Furman take the field after the opening kickoff with only 10 players? It did not.

There was also a scattering of double-counted players, usually a result of misspellings or changes in jersey numbers. Hey, it happens.

Ultimately, I am fairly confident in the general accuracy of the numbers in the spreadsheet linked above, particularly the categories for starters. The totals for participants should also be largely correct, although I will say that it is harder to find (and correct) errors in online participation charts for participants than it is starters. That is because the players who tend to be occasionally omitted from the charts are special teams performers and backup offensive linemen — in other words, non-starters who do not accumulate standard statistics.

According to the SoCon’s fall prospectus, 553 of the 636 players who lettered in F20/S21 are playing this fall (86.9%). That tracks with my numbers, with 83.2% of all participants returning (573 of 689). I did find one player listed as a returnee in the prospectus who is not on his school’s online roster; it is possible there are one or two more such cases.

Samford had by far the most participants, with 95 (in seven contests). Of that group, however, 24 only appeared in one game during the spring. The number of multiple-game participants for SU is more in line with some of the other spring-only teams, such as Furman; the Paladins also played seven games, with 71 participants, 64 of whom played in at least two games.

Having said that, kudos to Samford for being able to maintain a roster that large this spring. That is a credit to its coaching and support staff.

Mercer, which played three games in the fall and eight in the spring, has the most returnees that started multiple games, with 37. There are 25 Bears who are returning after making at least two spring starts.

The Citadel has the most players returning who had 2+ starts in the spring, with 28. Wofford has the fewest (19), not a huge surprise given the Terriers only played in five games.

Chattanooga and East Tennessee State combine to return 122 out of 128 players who participated in the spring season. Those returnees include 75 players who started at least one spring game.

Conference teams average 30.44 returning starters from the spring. No squad has fewer than 25.

For the SoCon, I’m not really capable of fully replicating the formula Bill Connelly uses for his FBS returning production rates; I lack access to some of the necessary data. Therefore, I am just going to list some of the (very limited) spots throughout the conference in which teams will have to replace key performers from the spring. I realize that is more anecdotal in nature than the rest of this post.

  • Furman must replace three starters on its offensive line, including the versatile Reed Kroeber (41 career starts for the Paladins). FU also loses first-team all-SoCon free safety Darius Kearse.
  • Wofford has to replace its second-leading rusher from the spring (Ryan Lovelace), and players who accounted for 61% of the Terriers’ receiving production.
  • VMI loses three defensive stalwarts who were second-team all-conference selections; one of them, lineman Jordan Ward, will be a graduate transfer at Ball State this fall.
  • The Keydets will also miss Reece Udinski, who transferred to Maryland (as was announced before the spring campaign even began). However, Seth Morgan certainly filled in at QB with aplomb after Udinski suffered a season-ending injury.
  • Mercer must replace leading rusher Deondre Johnson, a second-team all-league pick.
  • Samford placekicker Mitchell Fineran, an all-SoCon performer who led the conference in scoring, graduated and transferred to Purdue. He is the only regular placekicker or punter in the conference from the spring not to return for the fall.
  • I mentioned earlier that Western Carolina running back Donnavan Spencer (a first-team all-conference choice) transferred to Southern Illinois. The Catamounts also lost another first-team all-league player, center Isaiah Helms, a sophomore who transferred to Appalachian State. That has to sting a bit in Cullowhee. 
  • WCU’s starting quarterback last spring, Ryan Glover, transferred to California (his third school; he started his collegiate career at Penn). Glover and VMI’s Udinski are the only league players to start multiple games at quarterback this spring who are not returning this fall.
  • Western Carolina defensive tackle Roman Johnson is listed on the Catamounts’ online roster, but also reportedly entered the transfer portal (for a second time) in mid-July. I am including him as a returning starter for now, but there is clearly a lot of uncertainty as to his status.
  • The Citadel must replace starting right tackle Thomas Crawford (the only spring starter for the Bulldogs who is not returning).
  • A few players who appeared in fall 2020 action but not in the spring eventually found their way to FBS-land. Chattanooga wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly, a two-time first team all-SoCon selection during his time with the Mocs, will play at Western Michigan this season. Mercer wideout Steven Peterson, who originally matriculated at Coastal Carolina before moving to Macon, is now at Georgia. Strong safety Sean-Thomas Faulkner of The Citadel will wear the mean green of North Texas this fall.

Odds and ends:

  • Of the 51 players on the media’s all-SoCon teams (first and second), 42 will return this fall. 
  • One of those returnees is ETSU linebacker Jared Folks, who will be an eighth-year collegian this season (the only one in D-1). Folks started his college career at Temple in 2014 — the same year in which Patrick Mahomes debuted for Texas Tech.
  • Robert Riddle, the former Mercer quarterback who did not appear in F20/S21, is now at Chattanooga. Riddle made nine starts for the Bears over two seasons, but his time in the program was ravaged by injuries.
  • Chris Oladokun, who started Samford’s spring opener at QB, transferred to South Dakota State. Oladokun began his college days at South Florida before moving to Birmingham, where he started eight games for SU in 2019. His brother Jordan will be a freshman defensive back at Samford this fall.

So, to sum up: every team has lots of players back, which means (almost) every team’s fans expects the upcoming season for their respective squads to be truly outstanding. College football games this year will all take place in Lake Wobegon, because everyone will be above average.

2021 Spring Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on February 27, 2021. 

The game will be televised by Nexstar Broadcasting and streamed on ESPN+. David Jackson will handle play-by-play, while Jay Sonnhalter supplies the analysis. Kristin Banks will be the sideline reporter.

The contest can be heard on radio via 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 Lee Glaze

Nexstar affiliates:

  • WMYT (Charlotte)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville)
  • WMUB (Macon)
  • WWCW (Lynchburg/Roanoke)
  • WCBD-d2 (Charleston)

Note: I am tentatively including WCBD as one of the affiliates for the contest, even though it is not part of the affiliate list provided by the SoCon’s weekly release. The station itself issued a release indicating that the game would be aired on one of its digital subchannels (2.2). However, the game is currently not on WCBD’s programming schedule.

If I receive final confirmation one way or the other, I’ll adjust this section accordingly.

Links of interest:

Enthusiasm is up for spring football at The Citadel

– Jaylan Adams is the Bulldogs’ new starting quarterback

– Mercer prepares for home opener

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Mercer’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– Willie Eubanks III is the preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year

Raleigh Webb is back for another season

– “Live Stats” online platform

Spring football fever…catch it!

If you haven’t quite got the fever yet, though, I can’t say that I blame you.

To be honest, I’m not overly excited about this bizarre FCS gridiron campaign. There are several reasons for my hesitancy.

The first and biggest reason is simply that we are still battling a pandemic. I won’t say that we’re in the middle of the pandemic; I would like to think we’ve passed the midway point and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, this has been a marathon and not a sprint, and the race won’t be over until long after the spring football season has concluded.

I don’t think the current situation is all that dissimilar from where we were last August, when it was decided to cancel the 2020 FCS season (with a few out-of-conference games as exceptions). It is okay to play now, but it wasn’t then? Perhaps so, but the practical difference is marginal.

I also have concerns about the players’ welfare on a variety of fronts, including the fact that some of them might play 20 games (or more) this calendar year. The 2021 fall season is going to be significantly impacted by the 2021 spring campaign, when it really didn’t have to be.

There is also a question about logistics for the schools, especially at the FCS level, where staffing is not voluminous even during the best of times. Resource allocation could be problematic.

Having said all of that, I’m still along for the ride. I have a great deal of respect for the players and coaches who are committed to this spring season, who want to play and coach, and who are representing their respective schools to the best of their abilities.

If they are going to give it their best shot, then the least I can do as a fan is support them. That seems like the right thing to do.

Please understand, though, if from time to time I seem a bit skeptical of the proceedings.

Speaking of skepticism, that was the reaction of more than a few people (including me) when the SoCon released its spring football schedule. Naturally, this being the SoCon, the league actually had to release the schedule twice.

First, the league hastily decided The Citadel should forfeit a contest for daring to play four games in the fall. That ruling ignored historical precedent and was destined to boomerang against the conference in multiple ways if it had actually been implemented. Only eight days after the league’s decision, however, the military college was granted a waiver by the NCAA, and the initial SoCon slate was quickly adjusted.

It just wasn’t adjusted enough.

All nine league schools will play eight times, a true round-robin. Oh, and each team has only one bye week, so the entire conference schedule has to be completed in nine weeks. Seriously. Did anyone in the league office watch the fall season at all?

The season had not even begun before problems began to surface, with Chattanooga postponing (canceling?) its opener against VMI because of COVID issues. The Mocs are hoping to complete enough practices to be ready for their game versus Wofford this Saturday; Chattanooga’s first practice of the spring came on February 6.

Several other FCS conferences are playing four- and six-game league schedules, which is a far better idea than trying to cram eight games into nine weeks.

Here is what I would have suggested. I am not saying it is perfect (far from it), but this would have been, in my opinion, a more realistic scheduling plan:

Each team would have played four games, spread out over seven weeks, with the eighth week reserved for a league title game and the ninth week as backup in case it was needed; if not, the conference champion would have two weeks to prepare for the FCS playoffs.

There would be two divisions.

  • Pete Long Division — The Citadel, Furman, Wofford, Western Carolina, VMI
  • Tom Frooman Division — Samford, Mercer, Chattanooga, ETSU

In the Long Division, the arithmetic would be easy. There would be a simple round-robin between the five teams.

In the Frooman Division, each team would play a round-robin (three games each), then a fourth contest would be a second “rivalry” matchup. For example, Chattanooga would play Mercer, Samford, and two games against ETSU. Mercer would play Chattanooga, ETSU, and two games versus Samford.

That way, every team would play four games. The division winners would meet in the league title game (I’ll let you, the reader, decide what tiebreakers would be used if necessary); the conference title game winner would get the SoCon auto-bid and an all-but-guaranteed matchup against a Big South team.

Teams that didn’t win a division could play a fifth game if they wanted, or even a sixth, matching up with other squads in those eighth and ninth weeks.

Again, I’m not saying this setup is ideal. It isn’t. I just think it makes more sense than what the league is trying to do.

Now, the SoCon might get away with it (and I certainly hope it does), but the odds are not exactly in the conference’s favor. Anyone who believes otherwise just needs to take a gander at how the league’s hoops schedule is faring right now.

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Mercer above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools (except for ETSU’s, as the Bucs are off this Saturday):

One thing someone reading the game notes will notice is that the records from the fall officially carry over to the spring. Therefore, The Citadel and Mercer technically both enter Saturday’s action with 0-4 records; so does Western Carolina. Chattanooga is 0-1 after playing one fall contest.

However, I’m not listing the games that way. The title of this post references Game 1 of the 2021 spring season for the Bulldogs. That is because I do not consider the contests from fall 2020 to be connected to spring 2021 action any more than the 2018 and 2019 seasons are connected to each other. The notion that spring 2021 is a continuation of fall 2020 is specious at best.

There have been personnel changes since the fall season for all teams (including The Citadel and Mercer). There are players who opted out in the fall but are playing this spring; there are players who participated in the fall but are taking a break for the spring. There have been mid-season transfers in and out of programs.

The fall included only non-conference games (even when teams from the same league were playing each other); the spring will mostly feature conference matchups. The fall scheduling was decidedly haphazard, while the spring schedules weren’t formulated until most of the autumn contests had already been played. (Heck, the Patriot League did not release its spring slate until February 5.)

Despite all of that, the FCS playoff selection committee will allegedly consider fall games (and results) when making at-large selections for the FCS playoffs in April. This strikes me as ludicrous. Then again, we’re talking about the perpetually flawed FCS playoffs, so perhaps it is not too surprising.

It doesn’t really matter. I suspect the only team potentially affected would be Jacksonville State, which defeated an FBS team (FIU) in the fall, and which also picked up wins over North Alabama and Mercer. If the Gamecocks don’t win the OVC but otherwise have a solid spring campaign, they would presumably have a strong case for an at-large bid.

Chattanooga would have also had an argument, if it had not lost its lone fall contest, a 13-10 setback at Western Kentucky in which officiating ineptitude cost the Mocs a game-winning kickoff return TD. Ultimately, I think the league title is probably the only avenue for a SoCon team to make the FCS playoffs this spring.

This is normally the point where I start posting charts of statistics for the Bulldogs’ opponent from the previous year, listing several key players on its two-deep, etc. For this particular season, however, I believe doing so would be a largely pointless exercise.

I could tell you that in 2019, Mercer had the 7th-worst turnover margin in FCS (throwing 17 interceptions didn’t help), or that the Bears were the 8th-worst team in the subdivision in defensive third down conversion percentage, or that Mercer was in the bottom 10 of average time of possession.

I could tell you all that and more, but none of it is exceptionally relevant, partly because 2019 might as well have been a century ago as far as college football is concerned, but mostly because Mercer has a new head coach.

His name is Drew Cronic. Mercer hired him after a five-year stretch in which he spent two years as the head coach at Reinhardt (combined record: 22-3), one year as Furman’s offensive coordinator (the Paladins made the FCS playoffs that season), and two years running the show at Lenoir-Rhyne (combined record: 25-3).

Cronic had also spent nine years earlier in his career at Furman as a position coach and recruiting coordinator.

That kind of résumé will get a lot of people’s attention — and it isn’t like schools haven’t had success with former Lenoir-Rhyne head coaches before. The folks at MU decided to move on from Bobby Lamb (speaking of former Furman coaches), and brought in Cronic.

On offense, Cronic employs a variation of the Wing-T. I say “a variation” because it is clearly a different animal from the Wing-T that your standard high school has used on offense for the last few decades. I think Tubby Raymond would have been impressed, though.

Cronic’s assistant coaches include a couple of names familiar to fans of the Bulldogs. Bob Bodine is the co-offensive coordinator for the Bears; he is a former OC at The Citadel (2010-2013).

Mercer’s defensive coordinator is Joel Taylor, who spent five years at the military college before joining Cronic at Lenoir-Rhyne. Taylor will run a 4-2-5 defense, one that includes a “Bandit” position.

Incidentally, the Bears’ offensive depth chart includes spots for five linemen, a quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, running back, and two “Jokers”.

Given that the Mercer two-deep has both Jokers and Bandits, I thought there was a chance for a cheesy pop culture reference, so I spent several minutes trying to shoehorn a Steve Miller song lyric into this space, and then tried out several jokes based on one of the Batman movies. None of the asides were remotely worthy of even this little blog, so I deleted all of them.

You’re welcome.

Mercer played three fall contests in 2020, Cronic’s first games in charge of the program.

October 10: On a rainy day at Jacksonville State, the Bears lost 34-28 despite an ideal start, as Deondre Johnson returned the game’s opening kickoff 100 yards for a TD. (He will be playing for MU this Saturday, both as a kick returner and at the “Joker” position.) The Gamecocks scored 24 points in the second quarter to take a 27-14 lead into the break, but Mercer was down just 6 late in the fourth quarter and in JSU territory when a Bears fumble was returned 64 yards for a touchdown.

October 17: MU traveled to West Point to face Army. On the game’s opening possession, the Bears put together a 15-play, 56-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. After that, though, the home team dominated, as the Black Knights won 49-3. Not counting a one-play drive at the end of the first half, Army had nine possessions and scored touchdowns on seven of them.

October 31: Mercer hosted Abilene Christian and led 17-10 in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats tied the game. ACU then kicked a field goal on the last play of the contest to win, 20-17. Bears safety Lance Wise (who remains on the roster this spring) had 20 tackles. Mercer QB Harrison Frost was 11 for 15 passing for 126 yards and a TD (Frost was the Bears’ backup quarterback last week).

Mercer lost two fumbles against Abilene Christian, which for the Bears was part of an unfortunate trend. In its three fall games, MU fumbled nine times, losing four of them. Mercer also threw four interceptions in those three contests.

Against Wofford in the Bears’ spring opener, there were no interceptions — but MU fumbled three times and lost all of them.

Mercer’s offense scored 14 points against the Terriers on 11 drives. MU went 3-and-out five times.

The Bears averaged 5.2 yards per rush and 3.8 yards per pass attempt (all of these statistics are sack-adjusted). All but one of Mercer’s 25 passes were thrown by freshman Carter Peevy, who completed 11 of 24 attempts for 131 yards; the Bears’ leading receiver (four receptions) was another freshman, Ethan Dirrim.

MU rushed the football on 58.8% of its offensive plays versus Wofford. My general impression is that Mercer would prefer running the football more often than that; in its matchup with Abilene Christian, for example, the Bears rushed on 74.6% of their plays.

Defensively, Mercer gave up 31 points on 10 drives (not counting one-play end-of-half possessions). The Bears forced three Wofford 3-and-outs. The leading tackler for Mercer was linebacker Alvin Ward Jr., a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern.

MU’s defense allowed 9.1 yards per pass attempt against the Terriers, clearly not something the Bears want to see repeated. Four of Wofford’s 12 completions (in 19 attempts) went for 18 yards or longer.

Wofford averaged 4.8 yards per rush against Mercer. Eight of the Terriers’ 42 runs went for 10 yards or more (with a long of 21).

Quick statistical notes on The Citadel’s offense from 2019 (conference games only, and sack-adjusted):

  • The Citadel rushed on 79.6% of its plays from scrimmage in 2019. As a comparison, the Bulldogs ran the ball 83.7% of the time in 2018, after rushing 77.9% of the time in 2017 and on 85.6% of all offensive plays in 2016.
  • The Bulldogs averaged 74.3 plays from scrimmage per game in 2019. In 2018 that number was 69.0 per contest; in 2017, it was 70.1; and in 2016, 72.1.
  • The Citadel averaged 5.39 yards per play in 2019. In 2018, the Bulldogs averaged 5.36 yards per play; in 2017, that number was 5.38 yards per play; and in 2016, the squad averaged 5.58 yards per play.
  • The average yards per pass attempt in 2019 was 7.7, in line with the numbers from 2018 (7.8), 2017 (7.0), and 2016 (7.4).
  • The Citadel averaged 4.80 yards per rush, which is the lowest figure for the Bulldogs in this category since I began regularly tracking these statistics in 2013.

Quick statistical notes on The Citadel’s defense from 2019 (conference games only, and sack-adjusted):

  • The Bulldogs’ defense faced a rushing play 52.8% of the time in 2019. During the 2018 campaign, opponents rushed on 43.5% of their plays from scrimmage. In 2017, that number was 54.7%.
  • The Citadel’s opponents averaged 63.0 plays from scrimmage in 2019. That compares to 62.3 plays per game in 2018; 58.8 plays/game in 2017; and 57.6 plays per contest in 2016.
  • In 2019, the Bulldogs’ defense allowed 5.69 yards per play. During the 2018 season, it allowed 6.18 yards per play; in 2017, 5.69 yards/play; and in 2016, 4.94 yards per play.
  • Opponents averaged 4.91 yards per rush. In 2018, that number was 5.69; it was 4.87 in 2017 and 4.61 back in 2016.
  • The Citadel’s D allowed 6.6 yards per pass attempt, with the figures from past years looking like this: 6.5 in 2018; 7.5 in 2017; and 5.3 in 2016.

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for the game against Mercer, by class:

  • Freshmen: 9
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

Mercer’s listed depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 7
  • Sophomores: 8
  • Redshirt sophomores: 5
  • Juniors: 4
  • Redshirt juniors: 7
  • Seniors: 0
  • Redshirt seniors: 2
  • Graduate students: 3

Career points scored by Bulldogs listed on the updated spring roster:

McCarthy is on the baseball team and is not expected to compete on the gridiron this spring.

No current Bulldog has scored a defensive touchdown. The only one to have tallied a special teams TD is Webb, on a 77-yard kickoff return against Charleston Southern in 2018.

Trivia time: The Citadel has yet to score a defensive two-point conversion since the rule was implemented at the college level in 1988.

Odds and ends:

From The Citadel’s game notes comes this interesting tidbit:

Defensive back Javonte Middleton will become the first Bulldog to wear #0 this spring. The number was introduced in the fall by the NCAA and will be worn by the Military Captain each year for the Bulldogs.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Macon, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny with a 20% chance of rain, and a high of 72°. As the week has progressed, the projected high temperature has continued to rise.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel (as of February 24) is a 6-point favorite at Mercer. The over/under is 51½.

– Other SoCon lines this week (as of February 24): Wofford is a 2½-point favorite at Chattanooga (over/under of 46); Samford is a 15½-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 58½); and Furman is a 24½-point favorite at VMI (over/under of 62½).

A few more games of note in FCS: James Madison is a 35½-point favorite over Robert Morris; South Dakota State is a 7½-point favorite at North Dakota; Elon is a 17½-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; Howard is a 3½-point favorite at Delaware State; McNeese State is an 11-point favorite over Incarnate Word; and Jackson State is a 10½-point favorite over Mississippi Valley State.

– Mercer’s notable alumni include TV personality Nancy Grace, missionary/spy John Birch, and music promoter Phil Walden.

– The Citadel is 11-5-1 against Mercer in the all-time series.

– Mercer’s roster includes 64 players from Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (8), North Carolina (7), Tennessee (3), South Carolina (2), and one each from Alabama, California, Hawai’i, Ohio, and Texas.

There are two Palmetto State products on MU’s squad. Offensive lineman Ni Mansell is a freshman from Anderson who played at Westside High School; he is on the two-deep as the backup right guard.

Of course, The Citadel is more than familiar with linebacker Jordan Williams, a graduate transfer from none other than the military college itself. Williams (listed as a ‘KAT’ on Mercer’s depth chart) went to Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

Alas, no Bear can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s most celebrated institution for gridiron greatness, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. For long-term success in Macon, the new coaching staff must successfully recruit at least a few of those remarkable individuals who wear the famed maroon and orange. Otherwise, Mercer’s program will remain lost in the desert, forever unquenched.

– There are ten players on Mercer’s roster who have transferred into the program from four-year colleges since Drew Cronic became the head coach. Those schools include The Citadel (as mentioned above), along with Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Lenoir-Rhyne, Liberty, Navy, Virginia Tech, and Wofford. Four of those players (right guard John Harris, tight end Drake Starks, wide receiver Ty James, and running back Nakendrick Clark) are projected as starters on offense, as is right tackle Santo DeFranco, a junior college transfer from Hartnell College in California.

Clark and Starks are two of the three Bears who joined the program at the semester break.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on February 27. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 2-1, having beaten North Carolina State 12-1 in their most recent matchup. On February 21, The Citadel defeated Augusta College 9-4, the first collegiate victory for starting pitcher Steve Basch, a freshman from Lansing, Michigan.

The Citadel then won three straight games against Davidson. A doubleheader sweep was highlighted by Jason Rychlick’s game-winning two-run single in the nightcap. In the final game of the series, the Cadets whipped the Wildcats 15-4, with Anthony Jenkins, Billy Baker, and Dan McDonnell all homering. McDonnell’s round-tripper would prove to be the only one he would hit all season.

Chal Port’s Bulldogs completed a perfect week on the diamond with two triumphs over Gannon. In the first matchup, Chris Coker’s four RBI highlighted a 12-hit attack in a 9-2 victory. The second game was a 10-6 win; Brad Stowell pitched six solid innings to garner the decision. Six different players had multiple-hit games in the contest, which (we must report, to be fair) also featured a triple play turned by the Golden Knights.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending February 27, with a winning streak of seven games. The overall record stood at 8-1.

I don’t really know what to expect on Saturday. The Citadel will have a new starting quarterback and a lot of younger players sprinkled throughout the two-deep (particularly at A-Back and in the defensive line rotation). It goes without saying that the performance of Jaylan Adams at QB will be a major key.

Mercer will have the advantage of having played one game, which in this unicorn of a season could be a big deal, although I’m not entirely sure it is. I’m not entirely sure about anything when it comes to spring football.

The games between the two programs since Mercer joined the SoCon have always been close. The largest margin of victory in the series during that timeframe is 11 points, which came in the last meeting — The Citadel’s 35-24 win in 2019.

I won’t be in Macon, but I’ll be watching on ESPN+ while simultaneously listening to the radio call. The “live stats” online platform will be at the ready.

I would say it is that time of year, except it really isn’t — and yet, here we are anyway. What a world.

Go Dogs!

Game Review, 2019: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– Associated Press story

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– WCSC-TV recap (video via Twitter)

– School release

– Mercer website story

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

This was very, very cool.

Congrats to Brandon Rainey on setting a record that had been around for a while:

Stats of note:

The Citadel Mercer
Field Position* 31.13 (+4.7) 26.43 (-4.7)
Success Rate* 53.42% 46.30%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3 4
Finishing drives (average points) 7.00 4.25
Turnovers 1 1
Expected turnovers 1.22 0.66
Possessions* 8 7
Points per possession* 4.38 3.43
Offensive Plays* 73 53
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 5.57 3.17
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 6.20 8.53
Yards/play* 5.59 6.21
3rd down conversions 14 for 17 (82.4%) 5 for 12 (41.7%)
4th down conversions 0 for 1 2 for 3
Red Zone TD% 5 for 5 (100.0%) 1 for 3 (33.3%)
Net punting 32.0 33.0
Time of possession 37:15 22:45
TOP/offensive play 30.20 seconds 25.28 seconds
Penalties 4 for 51 yards 5 for 45 yards
1st down passing 1/1, 20 yards, TD 7/9, 95 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 0/1 4/6, 88 yards
4th down passing 0/0 2/2, 34 yards, sack
1st down yards/play* 6.45 6.71
3rd down average yards to go 4.75 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 0

*does not include Mercer’s final drive of first half, or The Citadel’s final drive of second half

Some quick thoughts on the above statistics:

– The Citadel scored a touchdown all five times it advanced past the Mercer 40-yard line. That kind of efficiency is key to having success in games like this. Mercer, conversely, was held to two field goals (missing one of them) when its offense got in scoring range. MU did score two TDs on drives in that territory as well, but the non-TD possessions hurt the Bears.

– This was the first time all season the Bulldogs’ offense did not have a three-and-out during the game.

– The Citadel had eight possessions (not counting kneeldowns) in the game, the fewest in any contest this year. Mercer’s seven possessions (again, not counting end-of-half kneeldowns) marked the fewest an opponent has had versus the Bulldogs in 2019.

– Mercer’s opening drive lasted 16 plays and took up 8:53 of the first quarter. For the rest of the game, the Bears ran 38 plays (counting a first-half kneeldown) and had the ball for only 13 minutes, 52 seconds.

Thus, after the first possession by MU, The Citadel’s offense had the football for 73% of the time in game action. Even accounting for that drive, the Bulldogs had a lopsided advantage in time of possession.

In the second half alone, The Citadel possessed the ball for 23:14.

– For the third time this year, the Bulldogs converted more than half of their third-down conversion attempts, with their 82.4% success rate on third down versus Mercer easily the best of the campaign. The Bulldogs’ offense also converted third downs at better than a 50% clip against Towson and Georgia Tech.

– The Citadel’s offense ran a play every 30.2 seconds, which was actually the second-fastest pace for the Bulldogs this year (excepting only the VMI contest).

– The Bulldogs averaged 6.45 yards on first down against Mercer, the second-best average on first down in 2019 (The Citadel averaged a ridiculous 9.57 yards on first down versus Western Carolina).

– The Citadel’s offensive success rate of 53.42% was the second-highest of the year, behind only its success rate against Towson (54.05%).

Random observations:

– The Citadel now has an all-time record on Homecoming of 48-42-2. That marks the most games above the break-even point for the program since the celebration contest began in 1924.

– The Bulldogs have won eight consecutive Homecoming games, the second-longest streak ever (only surpassed by the 10 straight won between 1969 and 1978).

– Bobby Lamb waited until very late to call Mercer’s final two timeouts of the second half. I thought that was a mistake, both from a practical and psychological standpoint.

The Citadel took over possession after Sean-Thomas Faulkner’s fourth-down sack with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter. However, Lamb elected to wait until 1:27 remained in the game to call the Bears’ second timeout.

The Citadel ran seven plays during that time frame. Two of those plays were key third-and-long runs that resulted in first downs. After one more play sandwiched between Mercer’s final two timeouts, Remus Bulmer shook loose for the Bulldogs’ clinching touchdown.

– Lamb, a longtime presence in the Southern Conference at Furman and Mercer, is now 7-8 against The Citadel in his head coaching career.

– There were a couple of tough injuries during the game. Mercer’s Jamar Hall appeared to be knocked out after a violent collision with Dante Smith, and The Citadel’s Phil Davis was hurt intercepting a pass on the next-to-last play of the contest.

Best of luck to both of them going forward.

– Gage Russell, the Bulldogs’ holder on placements who has also seen time this season as a punter, usually wears jersey #93. However, on Saturday he wore #94 to honor his father, a 1994 graduate of The Citadel whose class was celebrating its 25th anniversary reunion.

Russell is a third-generation cadet at the military college, as his grandfather graduated from The Citadel in 1954.

– I have to mention the officials’ ball-spotting tendencies, because they were not good.

Often, it seemed like The Citadel had to go 11 or 12 yards for a first down instead of the standard 10, because the ball would be spotted incorrectly, sometimes by a full yard.

The failed fourth-down run in the second quarter by The Citadel also featured a bad spot, though I am not certain that even a correct placement by the officials would have resulted in a first down. Still, it would have been nice to be sure.

Incidentally, the holding penalty that negated a TD by the Bulldogs in the second quarter appeared to be a fair decision.

– Arguably, the most athletic move made at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday didn’t occur on the field of play.

During the retirement of the colors following the Alma Mater, the wind played havoc with the Touchdown Cannon Crew’s attempts to corral the flag. One intrepid cadet, with assistance, was able to hoist himself to the top of the wall behind the end zone and (with very little space to maneuver) was able to grab the end of the flag and pass it to his colleagues.

Watching the drama unfold, I was a bit concerned for the cadet’s safety, and I didn’t think risking a fall from a wall at least nine feet high was really worth the trouble. However, it ended well.

Perhaps in the future, someone could bring a ladder to the game, just in case a similar situation arises.

– I thought the crowd was into the game. Sometimes at Homecoming, that isn’t really the case — there are a lot of distractions, after all — but the enthusiasm was there on Saturday. (Oddly, that isn’t necessarily apparent on the ESPN+ broadcast.)

The Citadel has now put itself in position to compete for the SoCon title. It needs a little bit more help, but not much more. If the Bulldogs win their final three games, with or without a league championship they are likely bound for postseason play.

However, none of those three upcoming matchups will be easy. The first of them, and the last game before a long-awaited off week, comes next Saturday at East Tennessee State, as The Citadel makes the trip to Johnson City to face the defending conference co-champions.

I’ll write about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are a little different in scope, because I was enjoying the reunion festivities prior to the game. There aren’t many game action shots, either. I have no regrets and make no apologies, as I had a good time, with the Bulldogs’ victory just the capper on a fine weekend.

I included a few shots from the soccer game on Friday. I also attended The Citadel’s open basketball practice on Saturday, though there are no pictures of the team working out, as I wasn’t sure that was really permitted/desired.

I will say it was nice to be thanked for attending by the wife of the head basketball coach. There can’t be too many D-1 institutions where that happens.

Anyway, here are the photos, such as they are.

 

2019 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 26, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while Matt Dean supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

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

Marquise Blount is wreaking havoc

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on Mercer’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/23)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/21), including an appearance by Bulldogs linebacker Phil Davis

– Marquise Blount repeats as SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, and Jacob Godek is the SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week

The Dogs:  Episode 9

– A Look At Game Day

– Volleyball Highlights!

– Bobby Lamb talks about Mercer’s win over VMI

– Mercer postgame player interviews following the VMI game

“Commissioner’s Corner” — a brief video interview of league commissioner Jim Schaus

– General (a/k/a “G2”) to be honored during cadet marchover

This weekend at The Citadel is Homecoming, of course. The school’s information page for the festivities can be found here: Link

Besides a schedule of events, that link includes a great picture of the 1906 Bulldogs football team. That squad won the national title (technically sharing it with Princeton and Yale), according to the TSA Matrix Ratings System. As you may recall, the TSA Matrix Ratings System is also the selector which crowned the 1871 football team the undisputed national champion for that season.

A few of the Homecoming activities worth mentioning:

Friday:

  • The Citadel plays Furman in soccer at WLI Field, with a start time of 3pm
  • The Memorial Parade begins at 5:10 pm

Saturday:

  • Open barracks on campus from 8:30 am to 10:00 am
  • The Summerall Guards perform on the parade ground at 8:50 am
  • The Homecoming Review Parade begins at 11:00 am
  • Kickoff of the football game is at 2:00 pm — don’t be late (remember that the security check at the gates will take a few minutes)

Sunday:

  • The Citadel plays Wofford in soccer at WLI Field, with a start time of 2:00 pm

Earlier this year, I wrote about Homecoming at The Citadel, listing all of the games that have been played since the original Homecoming contest (a 6-0 victory over Furman) in 1924.

You can read that post (which includes an incredibly handy spreadsheet) here: Link

A few Homecoming-related trivia items:

  • Saturday’s contest will be The Citadel’s 92nd Homecoming game (overall record: 47-42-2)
  • It will be the first time Mercer has been the opponent; the Bears are the 18th different school to be featured in that role
  • The Citadel’s first Homecoming opponent, Furman, has faced the Bulldogs 26 times in the celebration game, more than any other school
  • The Citadel has won the last seven Homecoming games, its second-longest streak (the longest was 10 straight from 1969 to 1978)
  • Brent Thompson is 3-0 on Homecoming; only Bobby Ross (5) won more such games without a loss as the Bulldogs’ head coach
  • Charlie Taaffe and Eddie Teague each won six Homecoming games as head coach of the Bulldogs, sharing the record for most wins
  • Before 2017, The Citadel had played 50 consecutive Homecoming games in November; now, the contest will have been played in October two of the last three seasons
  • Saturday’s game will be only the second time a Homecoming game has been played on October 26
  • The longest play of any kind by The Citadel (offense, defense, or special teams) in a Homecoming game was Nehemiah Broughton’s 92-yard touchdown run in the Bulldogs’ 44-24 victory over Chattanooga in 2004
  • Last season’s 42-27 triumph over Samford was also The Citadel’s largest comeback victory in a home game in school history

Let me very briefly discuss last week’s win over Furman. Admittedly, I could probably discuss it for a couple of hours, but a few sentences will suffice.

I’ll just mention one statistic, and one situation.

– The stat: Furman entered that game averaging 7.19 yards per play, which was third-best in all of FCS. The Citadel’s defense held the Paladins to 3.38 yards per play.

It is hard to do much better than that on the defensive side of the ball.

– The situation occurred late in the first half, with The Citadel leading 7-3:

Cit 4-2 at Cit19 Timeout Furman, clock 02:03.
Cit 4-2 at Cit19 Brandon Rainey rush for 4 yards to the CIT23, 1ST DOWN CIT

That will almost certainly be my favorite “go for it” decision of the year.

Was it the right call from an analytical point of view? It probably was (a little better than 50-50). How many other coaches would have gone for it? Very few.

Brent Thompson explained his reasoning on his coach’s show, and it made a lot of strategic sense — but in my opinion, the psychology of the decision was even more important.

That basically was the coach having confidence in his team (both offensively and defensively) and, at the same time, challenging his squad. There was an element of “we’re going to do this and you can’t stop us” to it, too.

It was a standout moment in what was just an excellent win in every way. I was particularly impressed by how the Bulldogs controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Now, the Bulldogs have to focus on Mercer.

Statistics of note for the Bears (through seven games):

Mercer Opponents
Points Per Game 30.86 31.71
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 221 289
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.30 5.10
Att-Comp-Int 239-135-13 228-133-4
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 6.47 6.84
Total Plays 468 525
Yards per play 5.93 5.89
Total punts 32 38
Punting Net Average 31.6 33.9
Penalties-Yards 32-270 52-482
Penalty yards per game 38.57 68.86
Time of Possession per game 26:10 33:50
Offensive plays per second 23.49 sec 27.06 sec
3rd Down Conversions 37-94 (39.36%) 47-113 (41.59%)
4th Down Conversions 5-12 (41.67%) 6-10 (60.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 10-5 7-4
Sacks-Yards Lost 8-58 8-43
Red Zone: Touchdowns 15/24 (62.50%) 19/32 (59.38%)
Turnover Margin -10 +10
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 47.22% 55.05%

– Mercer is tied for 118th in FCS in turnover margin (out of 124 teams). The Citadel is tied for 71st.

– The Citadel is first nationally in time of possession. The rest of the top five: Davidson, Yale, Wofford, and Portland State. Mercer is 121st, ahead of only Marist, Sacred Heart, and Samford.

– The Bulldogs are 12th in FCS in net punting, while MU is 113th.

– Mercer is 2nd in kickoff return average (27.27 yards per return). Only Elon has a better average than the Bears. The Citadel is 63rd (19.94).

– In the category of fewest penalties per game, Mercer is tied for 13th nationally. The Bulldogs are 27th.

– The Citadel is 55th in offensive third down conversion rate, while the Bears are 52nd.

– Defensively, Mercer is 83rd in third down conversion rate, while The Citadel is 86th.

– The Citadel is 7th nationally in offensive fourth down conversion attempts, and 3rd in conversions made. The Bulldogs’ 73.9% success rate (17 for 23) is the best among all teams with at least 20 attempts.

– Mercer is 39th in offensive yards per play. The Citadel is 102nd.

– On defense, MU is 83rd in yards allowed per play. The Bulldogs are 90th.

Mercer started its season with a 49-27 win at Western Carolina. The Bears’ David Durden returned the opening kickoff 82 yards, which set the tone for the game. Robert Riddle threw four TD passes, while Tyray Devezin rushed for two more (and caught one of Riddle’s touchdown throws). Five of MU’s touchdowns were 30 yards or longer.

Originally, Mercer had only scheduled 11 regular season games. However, the Bears added a 12th, playing at Presbyterian after the Blue Hose had a game against Stetson canceled due to Hurricane Dorian. MU took full advantage of its extra opportunity, routing PC 45-7. Riddle threw three more TD passes (and ran for a fourth score).

Those two victories, however, were washed away by four consecutive losses, with the first of those a 48-34 home loss to Austin Peay. The Bears had a punt blocked and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

MU then lost at Furman, 45-10. The Paladins rolled up over 600 yards of total offense, including 410 rushing yards.

The following week, Campbell totaled 515 yards of offense in a 34-27 win in Macon. The Camels moved the ball equally well on the ground and through the air.

Then, Mercer lost 34-17 at Chattanooga. The Mocs took advantage of four MU turnovers, scoring 27 points in the second half.

After an open week, Mercer broke its losing streak with a 34-27 home victory over VMI. Late in the first half, Riddle suffered a terrible lower leg injury. His replacement was former starting QB Kaelan Riley, who led the Bears to a much-needed win.

In that game, Mercer showed a good deal of resiliency for a team coming off of four straight losses. The Bears could have packed it in on a miserable night, with bad weather and their starting quarterback suddenly out with a season-ending injury. Instead, they surged to a three-touchdown lead before a late Keydet comeback attempt.

Kaelan Riley (6’3″, 231 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Calhoun, Georgia, now takes over at quarterback for the Bears. Riley has 16 career starts (including 11 as a redshirt freshman), so he has plenty of experience.

Riley was the SoCon Freshman of the Year in 2017. That included a win against The Citadel, in which he was 12 for 23 for 111 yards passing. He played briefly versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game, after Robert Riddle was injured on Mercer’s final drive.

Last season, Riley completed 54.2% of his throws, averaging 8.69 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 12 TDs against just two interceptions. In limited time this year, he is 13 for 26 passing, with one TD and two picks.

Junior running back Tyray Devezin (5’8″, 233 lbs.) leads Mercer in rushing, and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The native of Woodstock, Georgia had a career night against VMI last week, rushing for 193 yards, including a 56-yard TD. Devezin, a preseason first team all-SoCon choice, has also caught two TD passes this season.

Another running back for the Bears, redshirt freshman Deondre Johnson (5’7″, 166 lbs.), is averaging 6.1 yards per rush attempt. He has three rushing touchdowns. Johnson, who came to Mercer as a walk-on, also returns kicks, and had a 98-yard TD return against Chattanooga.

Between them, Devezin and Johnson average 23 carries per game for the Bears.

Eight different players have caught touchdown passes for Mercer this season.

The leading receiver for the Bears is Tucker Cannon (6’0″, 192 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Dunwoody, Georgia. Cannon has 25 receptions, and is averaging 18.2 yards per catch. He hauled in an 85-yard TD against Western Carolina.

Cannon is also Mercer’s primary punt returner, and he is a good one, averaging 7.8 yards per return. Cannon (also a kick returner) caught a TD pass versus The Citadel last season.

Tight end Chris Ellington (6’4″, 237 lbs.), a preseason second team all-league selection, has 19 catches, with 3 touchdown grabs. The senior from Jacksonville had 74 receiving yards and a TD versus VMI last Saturday.

Mercer will miss David Durden (6’2″, 197 lbs.), a sophomore wideout who was the preseason first team all-conference return specialist. Durden, who caught five passes against The Citadel last season (including one for a TD), is out for at least three more weeks with a back injury.

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 305 lbs. Left tackle Austin Sanders (6’3″, 287 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon media selection last year.

Mercer has a new defensive coordinator this season, Mike Adams. He spent the last three years at Charleston Southern as special teams coordinator (and also coached the safeties), but he has previous experience as a defensive coordinator, as he held that position at South Carolina State from 2006 to 2014.

MU has a solid defensive line, led by human bowling ball Dorian Kithcart (6’0″, 288 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Durham, North Carolina. Kithcart leads Mercer in tackles for loss (7 1/2).

Also looming on the d-line (figuratively and literally) is 6’5″, 297 lb. Destin Guillen, a redshirt senior defensive end from Greenville. Guillen is one of five redshirt seniors for Mercer who start on defense.

Inside linebacker Will Coneway (5’11”, 217 lbs.) leads the Bears in tackles this season, with 42. He also led MU in tackles last year (including a 13-stop performance against The Citadel). There is some question as to the status of the redshirt senior for Saturday’s matchup, as he was injured last week in the VMI game.

Malique Fleming (5’11”, 208 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-league pick at defensive back, but he is listed on Mercer’s most recent two-deep as an outside linebacker. The redshirt junior from Nashville played free safety last season (and from that position made nine tackles versus the Bulldogs).

Redshirt junior cornerback Harrison Poole (5’11”, 196 lbs.) had quite a night against VMI, with five pass breakups. As Bobby Lamb pointed out earlier this week, the leader in that category in the SoCon for the season has only eight (that would be East Tennessee State’s Tyree Robinson).

Poole isn’t currently listed among the league leaders in passes defended, presumably because he has only played five games — but thanks to his game versus Keydets, just three conference players have more passes defensed than he does.

– Mercer special teams, the good: as mentioned above, the Bears have outstanding return units. MU also has a fine placekicker, Caleb Dowden (5’11”, 174 lbs.). The redshirt freshman from Statesboro has yet to miss a kick this year, making all nine of his field goal tries (with a long of 45 yards) and going 27-27 on PATs.

MU’s kickoff specialist is first team FCS Hair All-American Devin Folser (6’2″, 170 lbs.), a freshman from McDonough, Georgia. Only one of his 38 kickoffs has resulted in a touchback.

– Mercer special teams, the bad: the Bears have had three punts blocked. Wait, is that the Sean-Thomas Faulkner batsignal going off?

Grant Goupil (6’1″, 184 lbs.) is Mercer’s regular punter (as he was two seasons ago). He has had punts blocked against Presbyterian (a partial, as it still went 16 yards), Austin Peay (which set up a TD for the Governors), and Chattanooga (which also set up a touchdown).

Dowden has punted seven times for the Bears, including three of the four Mercer punts against VMI.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, with a high of 77 degrees. There is also a possibility of rain on Saturday evening (with a projected low of 67 degrees).

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 13-point favorite over WCU, with an over/under of 61 1/2.

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

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Wofford is an 11-point favorite over Chattanooga; Furman is a 26 1/2 point favorite at Western Carolina; and Samford is a 4 1/2 point favorite versus East Tennessee State. VMI is off this week.

– Also of note: Elon is a 1 1/2 point favorite at Rhode Island; Towson is a 16 1/2 point underdog at James Madison; and Charleston Southern is a 3 1/2 point home underdog against Monmouth.

Georgia Tech is off this week, so its fans will get an extra seven days to celebrate last week’s overtime victory at Miami. The Yellow Jackets have split two overtime games this season.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 31, with North Carolina A&T favored over Howard.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 43rd in FCS. The Bears are 88th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 78% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, Mercer 24.

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

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Kennesaw State 14th, North Carolina A&T 20th, Towson 24th, Elon 26th, Furman 28th, Sam Houston State 31st, UT Martin 35th, Alcorn State 40th, Wofford 45th, Jacksonville State 50th, Chattanooga 53rd, Richmond 57th, William & Mary 59th, Samford 61st, Austin Peay 66th, Georgetown 70th, VMI 74th, Campbell 77th, South Carolina State 79th, East Tennessee State 84th, Dayton 87th, Charleston Southern 90th, Davidson 91st, Colgate 95th, Gardner-Webb 99th, Eastern Illinois 104th, North Alabama 109th, Western Carolina 114th, Merrimack 119th, Butler 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Mercer’s notable alumni include TV personality Nancy Grace, music promoter Phil Walden, and football coach Wally Butts.

– Mercer will play North Carolina later this season. Other future FBS opponents for the Bears include Vanderbilt (in 2020), Alabama (2021), Auburn (2022), and Mississippi (2023).

Mercer also has three games remaining in its series with Yale.

– Mercer’s roster includes 80 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (15 players), Tennessee (4), South Carolina (3), North Carolina (2), Alabama (2), and Ohio (1).

Geographically speaking, MU has the least diverse roster in the Southern Conference.

The three Palmetto State products on Mercer’s squad are redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Burnett (Airport High School), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tyrese Cohen (Midland Valley High School), and the aforementioned defensive end Destin Guillen (the redshirt senior went to Berea High School). They were also the only South Carolina natives on last year’s roster.

As has been the case for many years, Mercer has no players from storied pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It appears that the school’s aspirations for its football team are painfully modest, as it is hard to imagine how any program with even a scintilla of ambition would not spend an inordinate amount of time and money recruiting the fantastic gridders that 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 unchanged from last week, with the only difference involving some of the linebackers’ position descriptions (though the players listed remain the same).

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-6-1 for games played on October 26. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1929: At the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel shut out Presbyterian 14-0. Edwin McIntosh scored two touchdowns and also added both PATs. The star of the game on offense for the Bulldogs was halfback Howard “Red” Whittington, whose superb running set up the second TD. The Bulldogs collected two turnovers on defense, as Julius “Runt” Gray intercepted a pass and Louis Kirby recovered a PC fumble.
  • 1940: Before an estimated 4,000 home supporters, the Light Brigade trounced Oglethorpe 25-0. (Yes, during this era The Citadel’s varsity teams were occasionally referred to as the “Light Brigade”, but most alums didn’t like it and “Bulldogs” became the nickname of choice again after World War II.) Hank Foster opened the scoring with a 52-yard punt return for a TD. Joe Bolduc added a touchdown run to increase the lead, and then “Big Ben” Suitt added two more TDs, the second of which Suitt set up himself with a blocked punt.
  • 1957: The Bulldogs edged Furman at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 18-14, as 12,000 spectators looked on. The Citadel had taken an 18-0 lead on a touchdown run by Joe Chefalo and TD catches by Bob Saunders (from quarterback Dick Guerreri) and Joe Davis (on a halfback option pass by Tom Hemmingway). Furman stormed back to make it a game, but a final play that resulted in a touchdown for the Purple Hurricanes came too late, as time had expired.
  • 1974: On Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Appalachian State, 28-17. Gene Dotson scored two rushing TDs and threw for another, with Dickie Regan making the touchdown grab. Andrew Johnson rushed for 117 yards, including a 55-yard burst for a TD. The story of the game may have been on the other side of the ball, though, as the Bulldogs’ defense forced six turnovers. One of them came on an interception by Brian Ruff, who was named SoCon defensive player of the week for that and for his 29 credited tackles (16 “primary” and 13 “assisted”). Oh, by the way: Ruff was playing with two broken wrists.
  • 1991: At the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia, the Bulldogs outlasted VMI, 17-14. Terrance Rivers and Jack Douglas both scored rushing TDs for The Citadel, and Rob Avriett added a 45-yard field goal. Neither team scored in the second half, with the Bulldogs’ defense keeping the Keydets at bay thanks to an interception by Lester Smith and two memorable stops by Lance Cook (VMI also missed two field goals). This game was also notable for an airplane delay that resulted in team doctor Kenny Caldwell and radio analyst Rob Fowler not getting to the game until halftime. After the contest was over, a group of cadets tore down one of the goalposts.
  • 1996: The Citadel defeated Georgia Southern 35-20 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Bulldogs trailed 14-7 at halftime, but scored four second-half TDs to pull away. Deon Jackson had 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns (including a 63-yard run). After an Eagle score, Carlos Frank took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a TD, and The Citadel never looked back. Kenyatta Spruill added a touchdown run, and Stanley Myers threw a 37-yard TD pass to George Hampton. Incidentally, most of this game is on YouTube.

You may have noticed that I only highlighted six of The Citadel’s seven victories on October 26. The other contest was a 28-21 win at East Tennessee State in 1985. That was the game in which Marc Buoniconti suffered a broken neck.

This has not been the easiest of years for Buoniconti; his father Nick passed away in late July after a long decline. Of course, the difficult reality is that there is no easy year for him, or an easy day for that matter.

I don’t really have much to say about that — no epiphany, no great words of wisdom. The one thing I will note, however, is that it has now been 34 years since the injury, and Marc Buoniconti is still with us. That is probably a tribute to his caretakers (including his father), and to modern medicine, but most of all it is a credit to him.

That determination and perseverance over such a long period of time is worthy of admiration and respect.

Against Furman last Saturday, The Citadel arguably played its best game in the last two seasons. Can the Bulldogs repeat that level of play versus Mercer?

It could be difficult. Mercer will be ready to play, and the Bears have a lot of talent. Homecoming can be a distraction, too.

Offensively, The Citadel needs to score early (and preferably often). This is the type of game where a fast start could pay major dividends.

The Bulldogs’ defense has a tricky task ahead of it. Mercer’s offensive attack could change markedly with a new quarterback. Or, maybe it won’t change at all. No one will know (at least, no one from The Citadel will know) until the ball is snapped.

Mercer is a bit of a boom-or-bust outfit when it comes to special teams. The Citadel must keep the Bears in “bust” mode throughout the contest.

Last week, the Bulldogs won convincingly despite losing the turnover battle (3-1). For this game, however, The Citadel must take advantage of Mercer’s giveaway tendencies.

I think the Bulldogs will be prepared. There is an opportunity for this team to reach goals that may have been thought out of reach just a couple of weeks ago, and the players and coaches know it.

Johnson Hagood Stadium should be a happening place on Saturday (even if the weather doesn’t completely cooperate). I’m looking forward to it.

I think everyone else is, too.

Ruminating about ratings — 2019 preseason numbers for The Citadel, SoCon, FCS, and more

Recent posts about football at The Citadel:

“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2018 football season

– Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

– Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Other links of interest:

– Cam Jackson, playing American football in Turkey (and enjoying dessert)

Brandon Rainey talks about the upcoming season, and about closure

Dante Smith had a very good game against Alabama; is ready to have even more very good games this season

Bulldogs hold first scrimmage in the heat of Charleston

Usually, I discuss the Massey Ratings at the same time that I write about the preseason rankings from the various college football magazines. This year, because the ratings came out a little later, I decided to have two posts, one for rankings (which can be read here) and one for ratings.

I’m going to also briefly delve into several other preseason computer ratings for FCS teams. There will be a table!

For several years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, here is an explanation:

The Massey Ratings are designed to measure past performance, not necessarily to predict future outcomes…overall team rating is a merit based quantity, and is the result of applying a Bayesian win-loss correction to the power rating.

…In contrast to the overall rating, the Power is a better measure of potential and is less concerned with actual wins-losses.

…A team’s Offense power rating essentially measures the ability to score points. This does not distinguish how points are scored, so good defensive play that leads to scoring will be reflected in the Offense rating. In general, the offensive rating can be interpreted as the number of points a team would be expected to score against an average defense.

Similarly, a team’s Defense power rating reflects the ability to prevent its opponent from scoring. An average defense will be rated at zero. Positive or negative defensive ratings would respectively lower or raise the opponent’s expected score accordingly.

…the Massey model will in some sense minimize the unexplained error (noise). Upsets will occur and it is impossible (and also counter-productive) to get an exact fit to the actual game outcomes. Hence, I publish an estimated standard deviation. About 68% of observed game results will fall within one standard deviation of the expected (“average”) result.

Preseason ratings are typically derived as a weighted average of previous years’ final ratings. As the current season progresses, their effect gets damped out completely. The only purpose preseason ratings serve is to provide a reasonable starting point for the computer. Mathematically, they guarantee a unique solution to the equations early in the season when not enough data is available yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, Massey has ratings for almost every college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, and Canadian schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 927 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, from Clemson (#1) to Vermilion Community College (#927).

Vermilion is located in Ely, Minnesota. The Ironmen were 1-7 last season (1-5 in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference).

This year, The Citadel is #176 overall in the preseason ratings. In previous campaigns, the Bulldogs had overall preseason rankings of 218 (in 2018), 130 (2017), 113 (2016) and 174 (2015).

The teams on The Citadel’s 2019 schedule are ranked in the ratings as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Towson: 151 (45%)
  • Elon: 161 (36%)
  • Georgia Tech: 54 (3%)
  • Charleston Southern: 245 (86%)
  • Samford: 148 (32%)
  • VMI: 249 (85%)
  • Western Carolina: 220 (75%)
  • Furman: 153 (34%)
  • Mercer: 181 (58%)
  • East Tennessee State: 192 (50%)
  • Chattanooga: 183 (47%)
  • Wofford: 138 (39%)

Going by the ratings, a Massey preseason poll for the SoCon would look like this:

1 – Wofford
2 – Samford
3 – Furman
4 – The Citadel
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – East Tennessee State
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

Massey’s FCS-only rankings (ratings) for select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • South Dakota State – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Princeton – 4
  • Dartmouth – 5
  • UC Davis – 6
  • James Madison – 7
  • Northern Iowa – 8
  • Illinois State – 9
  • Weber State – 10
  • Colgate – 11
  • Harvard – 15
  • Kennesaw State – 19
  • Wofford – 21
  • Samford – 24
  • Towson – 26
  • Furman – 28
  • Elon – 33
  • Jacksonville State – 38
  • The Citadel – 46
  • Mercer – 49
  • Chattanooga – 51
  • North Carolina A&T – 54
  • East Tennessee State – 55
  • San Diego – 58
  • Duquesne – 59
  • Richmond – 61
  • Alcorn State – 70
  • Western Carolina – 75
  • Charleston Southern – 87
  • VMI – 91
  • South Carolina State – 94
  • Campbell – 96
  • North Alabama – 103
  • Gardner-Webb – 104
  • LIU – 110
  • Davidson – 114
  • Hampton – 117
  • Jacksonville – 118
  • Presbyterian – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 125
  • Merrimack -126

In the “overall” category, some schools of note:

  • Clemson – 1
  • Alabama – 2
  • Georgia – 3
  • LSU – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Ohio State – 6
  • Notre Dame – 7
  • Florida – 8
  • Texas A&M – 9
  • Auburn – 10
  • Syracuse – 15
  • Texas – 16
  • Washington – 17
  • Missouri – 18
  • Kentucky – 19
  • UCF – 20
  • Fresno State – 25
  • North Dakota State – 26 (highest-rated FCS team)
  • Stanford – 27
  • South Carolina – 34
  • North Carolina State – 35
  • Virginia – 40
  • Wake Forest – 42
  • Miami (FL) – 44
  • Appalachian State – 47
  • Vanderbilt – 49
  • Army – 50
  • Georgia Tech – 54
  • Southern California – 56
  • Florida State – 59
  • Ohio – 66
  • Marshall – 71
  • Air Force – 79
  • Georgia Southern – 85
  • Navy – 98
  • North Texas – 99
  • Rutgers – 103
  • Oregon State – 116
  • Coastal Carolina – 127
  • Liberty – 131
  • Laval – 155 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Connecticut – 169
  • Ferris State – 174 (highest-rated D-2 team)
  • Rice – 179
  • Laney College – 184 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • UTEP – 191
  • Mary Hardin-Baylor – 227 (highest-rated D-3 team)
  • Morningside (IA) – 237 (highest-rated NAIA team)

Of course, the Massey Ratings aren’t the only ratings out there. On his website, Massey himself lists 19 other services, some of which include FCS teams in their respective ratings. Not all of those have preseason ratings, however.

There appear to be five other ratings systems (on his list, anyway) that have updated preseason FCS ratings. I decided to create a table in order to compare the ratings (by rankings) of 17 different FCS schools — the nine SoCon institutions, along with The Citadel’s three non-conference FCS opponents this season (Towson, Elon, and Charleston Southern), two other instate schools (Presbyterian and South Carolina State), and three other solid programs in the league footprint (Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, and North Carolina A&T).

Like any good table, there is a key:

Drum roll…

The table (remember, these are rankings only for the 126 FCS teams; i.e., VMI is the preseason #91 team among all FCS squads in the Massey Ratings):

Team A B C D E F
The Citadel 46 24 43 36 39 59
VMI 91 111 114 107 106 120
Furman 28 33 20 25 27 32
Wofford 21 22 13 17 13 13
Chattanooga 51 49 54 42 33 43
ETSU 55 56 31 65 83 19
Samford 24 23 25 24 20 52
WCU 75 82 86 78 76 99
Mercer 49 54 56 48 41 67
Towson 26 29 11 28 18 23
Elon 33 36 24 40 38 26
Ch. Southern 87 83 62 74 97 62
Presbyterian 122 115 115 112 112 114
S.C. State 94 85 88 81 71 71
Kennesaw St. 19 5 7 9 15 8
N.C. A&T 54 37 18 37 53 11
Jacksonville St. 38 26 6 12 10 16

While some teams have fairly small groupings in terms of rankings among the services (such as Furman, Wofford, and Presbyterian), others differ wildly (particularly East Tennessee State and North Carolina A&T).

I was perhaps most surprised by the generally solid rankings for Samford, which comes across as a borderline top 25 preseason pick in these ratings. That certainly isn’t how SU has been perceived in the various rankings that have been released this summer, either league or national.

A few other things I’ll mention that aren’t reflected in the table:

– Entropy System’s preseason #1 FCS team isn’t North Dakota State, but South Dakota State. Hmm…

–  CSL included Virginia University of Lynchburg in its rankings. VUL is not an FCS school, but the computer program that put together the list may have thought it was, given that the Dragons play seven FCS opponents this season (Merrimack, Davidson, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Hampton, Southern, and Morgan State).

All of those games are on the road — in fact, the Dragons will play ten road games in 2019. VUL, a member of the National Christian Colleges Athletic Association (NCCAA), has two home games this year.

For the purposes of this post, I removed Virginia University of Lynchburg from the CSL Ratings, so that all the teams ranked were actually FCS squads.

– LIU, which will field an FCS team for the first time (having combined varsity programs at its two branch campuses), is ranked #22 by CSL, probably because the then-Pioneers (new nickname: Sharks!) were 10-1 in D-2 last season. Considering LIU did not play a Division I team last season, that high of a preseason ranking seems a bit dubious. We’ll know rather quickly just how dubious it is, as LIU opens its season at South Dakota State.

The overall situation with LIU is quite interesting. Basically, a D-2 varsity athletics program is being folded into an existing D-1 setup. Not everyone was happy about that decision.

College basketball fans may be familiar with the LIU Blackbirds, which made the NCAA tourney a few times and once played home games in the old Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. Now there are no Blackbirds, and no Pioneers (from the LIU-Post campus). Everyone is a blue-and-gold Shark.

LIU-Brooklyn didn’t have a football team, unlike LIU-Post. Thus, the D-2 football program is simply moving up to D-1 — but because it is going to be part of an already existing D-1 athletics program, it doesn’t have to go through a “transition” period and is immediately eligible to compete for the NEC title and an NCAA playoff berth.

– Steve Pugh is the creator/publisher of the “Compughter Ratings”. He has a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, as does Ken Massey. Apparently VT grad students spend most of their waking hours coming up with sports ratings systems.

– The Laz Index also rates Florida high school football teams. It has done so since 1999.

– Along with college football, the Born Power Index rates high school football teams in Pennsylvania and New Jersey — in fact, it was used last year by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association to rank playoff teams in that state.

This didn’t go over too well:

There has been a tremendous amount of criticism heaped on the NJSIAA for the new United Power Rankings.  A complicated formula that no one is 100 percent sure is accurate at any time, it basically breaks the ranking of teams into numbers – The Born Power Index and average power points.

The Born Power Index has been around since 1962, and is a mathematical rating system which somehow, determines how good a team is. Somehow, I say, because the formula is proprietary, and William Born, its creator, is not sharing with the public. That lack of transparency has a lot of people bothered.

The index will apparently not be a part of the “power ranking” for the New Jersey high school football playoffs this season.

– Five of the six ratings systems have Princeton in the top 7. The exception is the Compughter Ratings, which has the Tigers ranked 19th. On the other hand, fellow Ivy League school Dartmouth is ranked 12th by the Compughter Ratings.

Entropy has both Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5, and Harvard ranked 14th among FCS schools. Massey also has Princeton and Dartmouth in the top 5; Harvard is 15th in that service.

Ivy League schools with high ratings (and rankings) are the norm for most of these college football ratings services. I think this is a bug, not a feature.

Personally, I find it difficult to justify ranking Princeton and Dartmouth in the top five, or even the top 20 for that matter. That said, the Tigers and Big Green might be very good.

However, the Ivy Leaguers’ lack of schedule connectivity with the vast majority of their FCS brethren — particularly the more highly-regarded teams — makes it all but impossible to compare those squads to the elite outfits in the sub-division. For example, in 2019 none of the Ivies will face a team from the MVFC, Big Sky, SoCon, Southland, OVC, Big South, or SWAC.

Here is a list of all the non-conference games played by Ivy League schools this season against teams ranked in the STATS preseason Top 25:

  • Dartmouth hosts #13 Colgate
  • Cornell hosts #13 Colgate
  • Penn is at #22 Delaware

Princeton has been the standard-bearer for the league in recent years. The Tigers host Lafayette and Butler, and travel to Bucknell. Those three teams were a combined 8-25 last season; this year, their respective preseason Massey rankings in FCS are 100, 112, and 108.

It is very hard to say that Princeton is one of the best FCS teams in the country when there is no practical way to demonstrate the validity of such a statement.

At any rate, we’re getting even closer and closer to football season, which is all that really matters.

“Advanced” stats from The Citadel’s 2018 SoCon campaign

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with SoCon/FCS discussion as well

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, etc.

– Football attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere) — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Additional links about the Bulldogs’ upcoming gridiron campaign:

Hero Sports previews The Citadel

Five questions as The Citadel opens fall practice

WCSC-TV was at the first fall practice

What about a preview of the Bulldogs’ first opponent, Towson?

What follows is mostly (but not exclusively) about the “Five Factors” of college football. This is the third straight year I’ve written about The Citadel and the Five Factors; you can read my previous efforts here and here.

Later in this post I’ll discuss a few stats not directly related to the Five Factors, but we’ll start with the 5F. First, here is Bill Connelly of ESPN (formerly of SB Nation; he moved to the four-letter about a month ago) on what the Five Factors actually are. This is from 2014, but it still applies:

…I’ve come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

Connelly later adjusted some of the formulas that result in the five factors, but the basic principles are the same.

I’ve already discussed a lot of other statistics in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc. (see Part 1 and Part 2, linked above), but these are slightly different types of stats.

They are “advanced” statistics for the Bulldogs’ 2018 season. Is there a really convenient spreadsheet that goes with this post? You bet there is!

Keep in mind that these stats are for SoCon games only. Eight games. Sample size caveats do apply.

Also, please remember that the stats were compiled by me, so they may not be completely perfect. However, finding “ready-made” FCS stats for these categories is not easy. Actually, it’s just about impossible. I’m not complaining…okay, maybe I am complaining.

Since there are no readily available equivalent stats online for FCS teams, I will occasionally be using FBS data for comparisons. With that in mind, let me quote something from last year’s post about advanced stats.

Now, you may be wondering whether or not FCS stats would be similar to those for the FBS.

For the most part, they should be — with a couple of possible caveats. I asked Bill Connelly a question about FBS vs. FCS stats and potential differences, and he was nice enough to respond. Here is what he had to say about it on his podcast:

…The one thing you will notice is the further down you go, from pro to college, from FBS to FCS, Division II to high school and all that…the more big plays you’re going to have, and the more turnovers you’re going to have. That’s going to be the biggest difference, because you’re going to have more lopsided matchups, and you’re just going to have more mistakes. And so if you go down to the FCS level, it’s not going to be a dramatic difference with FBS — but that’s going to be the difference. You’re going to have more breakdowns, you’re going to have more lopsided matchups to take advantage of, you’re not going to have quite the same level of proficiency throughout a defense, and so there will be more mistakes on defense, and I think the reason North Dakota State has been so good is that they’re about as close as you can get to kind of being mistake-free in that regard.

As long as an FCS team plays in a league in which most, if not all, of the teams are competitive (such as the SoCon), statistical variance should be relatively normal, so I feel reasonably confident that there is validity to the numbers I’m about to present.

Okay, time for the Five Factors.

Field position

Annual reminder: the key to evaluating and understanding this category is that an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) is measured by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Special teams play is obviously critically important for field position as well. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — it all counts. Last year, The Citadel benefited from strong special teams play.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2017 was the 29.6 yard line. Unfortunately, I was unable to determine the average starting field position for 2018, but it is probably similar. There may have been a very slight uptick due to the rule change for fair catches on kickoffs.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 32.3 24.3  8.0
Road 33.9 28.7  5.2
Avg. 33.1 26.5  +6.6

The Citadel won the field position battle in six of eight league contests. The exceptions were Mercer and ETSU.

However, the numbers for the Mercer contest do not include Rod Johnson’s game-winning 94-yard kickoff return for a TD. That is because this statistic only reflects where offensive drives started, and the Bulldogs did not have an offensive drive after Johnson’s return (because he scored).

There is a similar issue with Dante Smith’s touchdown in the Western Carolina game, which came directly after a blocked punt by Bradley Carter. This isn’t a flaw in the statistic, but just something that has to be kept in mind.

The Citadel’s net punting average in SoCon play was 38.3 (third-best, behind Mercer and Furman). The league average was 35.5. Trust my numbers on that, as the net punting averages on the SoCon website are incorrect.

The Bulldogs were fourth in both punt return average and kickoff return average in conference play. The Citadel was third in kickoff return coverage, with a touchback rate of 43.2% (second-best in the SoCon). That TB rate is in line with the 2017 average (46.7%).

A corollary stat to field position is “3-and-outs+”, which is forcing an offense off the field after a possession of three plays or less that does not result in a score.

After a sizable edge in this stat in 2016 (a 7.7% positive margin), the Bulldogs’ differential in during the 2017 campaign was -2.5%. Last year, The Citadel rebounded in a major way, with a differential of almost 9% (33.70% – 24.73%). It helped that the offense reduced its number of 3-and-out drives by a significant margin (though there were occasional struggles in this area).

Toledo (+8.2) and Syracuse (+7.6) ranked 1-2 in field position margin for FBS. Other teams that had sizable edges in field position included Michigan, Marshall, Ohio State, LSU, and Auburn.

Florida State, with a FP margin of -9.3, was the worst FBS team in the category. It was a tough year in Tallahassee.

Efficiency

For defining efficiency, a stat called “Success Rate” is useful. Via Football Outsiders:

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The FBS average for Success Rate in a given season is roughly 40%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 41.37% 41.21% 0.17%
Road 38.53% 39.76% -1.23%
Avg. 40.02% 40.42% -0.40%

The Citadel was 3-5 in the efficiency battle in league games, coming out ahead against Mercer, ETSU, and Western Carolina. (Yes, VMI edged the Bulldogs in Success Rate, and by more than you might think.)

Two years ago, The Citadel had a differential of -4.24% in Success Rate, so 2018 was an improvement. That said, the Bulldogs have to stay “on schedule” on offense with their triple option attack, and 40% is not quite good enough.

During the 2016 season, The Citadel had an offensive Success Rate of 45.4%. Last year, such a percentage would have resulted in about 30 more “successful” plays in league action for the Bulldogs, or 3.75 per game. Three or four more successful plays per contest, whether they were long gainers or just helped move the chains, could have made a difference in several close games.

In FBS, Alabama led the way in offensive Success Rate, at 56.2%. Oklahoma ranked second, at 54.9%. Other squads that fared well in this sphere included Ohio, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Army was also solid (22nd nationally).

Rice, Central Michigan, and Rutgers (130th and last) were the most inefficient offensive units in the subdivision.

UAB ranked first in defensive Success Rate. Another C-USA team, Southern Mississippi, was second, followed by Michigan and Cincinnati. Alabama, Fresno State, and Appalachian State also finished in the top 10.

It should come as no surprise that the worst defensive teams in this category were Louisville, Oregon State, and cellar-dweller Connecticut, with the Huskies in particular having a historically bad defense.

In terms of margin, Alabama dominated (+22.0%). Clemson was second. Also in control from a marginal efficiency perspective: Wisconsin, Florida, Mississippi State, and Ohio State.

Explosiveness

Here is an explanation of “IsoPPP”:

IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?

The triple option offense does not lend itself to explosive plays, as a rule. Now, big plays are certainly important to the overall success of the offense. However, the modest-but-successful plays generally associated with the attack tend to cancel out the “chunk” plays when calculating the stat.

The Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league contests, the third consecutive season that was the case. That one game was against Samford.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 0.98 1.25 -0.27
Road 1.06 1.41 -0.35
Avg. 1.02 1.33 -0.31

The averages are slightly worse than last season, with the largest discrepancy the defensive rate at home (it was 1.05 in 2017).

FBS rankings are from Football Outsiders, which also includes “IsoPPP+”, which adjusts for opponent strength. However, I’m just going to list the unadjusted IsoPPP averages here.

The FBS national median for Explosiveness was 1.17. Oklahoma led the subdivision, at 1.46, followed by Maryland (in a bit of a surprise), Memphis, Houston, and Alabama.

As would be expected, the triple option (or triple option oriented) teams were all below average in explosiveness, with the notable exception of Georgia Southern (1.19, 53rd overall). Navy was 111th, New Mexico 112th, Georgia Tech 113th, Air Force 120th, and Army 129th (next-to-last, only ahead of Central Michigan).

BYU was the champion when it came to defensive IsoPPP (0.90). The rest of the top five: Iowa, Georgia, Washington, and Wyoming. Clemson was 8th, South Carolina 12th, and Georgia Southern 15th.

Last season, Georgia Southern was next-to-last in defensive IsoPPP, so there was a dramatic improvement on defense for that program. Beautiful Eagle Creek shimmered in the moonlight again.

On the wrong end of too many explosive plays: Virginia Tech, Coastal Carolina, South Alabama, East Carolina, Georgia State, and (of course) Connecticut, which had a defensive IsoPPP of 1.50. Yikes.

Imagine what would have happened if Oklahoma had played Connecticut last season…

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, based on the logical notion that the true “scoring territory” on the field begins at the +40.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2017 was 4.42.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 4.56 3.90 0.66
Road 4.82 5.41 -0.59
Avg. 4.69 4.55 0.14

This was a big improvement over a terrible 2017, when the Bulldogs struggled to put points on the board while in the Red Zone or the Front Zone.

The margin in 2018 might have been modest, but it was much more respectable than the -2.64 put up the year before. The defense does need to do a better job of bending (as opposed to breaking) when on the road, but that unit still improved by over a point in this category from 2017.

  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2016: 11.1
  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2017: -6.6
  • Scoring margin per game in SoCon play, 2018: 2.0

There are usually a lot of close games in the Southern Conference (five of the Bulldogs’ eight league games last season were decided by 7 points or less). That makes it all the more important, when approaching the goal line, to put the pigskin in the end zone.

Oklahoma led FBS in finishing drives (offense) last year, with a borderline-ridiculous 5.7 points per trip inside the 40-yard line. UCF was 2nd, followed by Utah State, Houston, Clemson, and Washington State. The worst team at finishing drives was UTSA.

The best defense inside the 40-yard line was Clemson, which allowed only 3.0 points per trip. Other stout defensive units in this area included Mississippi State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami (FL), Kentucky, and Appalachian State. The worst defense inside the 40 was also the worst defense outside the 40, or on the 40, or above the 40, or anywhere — Connecticut.

As you might imagine, Clemson topped the charts in finishing drives margin, at +2.4. As succinctly noted in Athlon’s college preview magazine, that meant opponents needed to create twice as many chances as Clemson to score as many points. That never happened, obviously.

Mississippi State (+2.1) was second. In last place was Louisville, at -2.0, but at least the Cardinals were consistent — they finished 126th in finishing drives (offense), and 126th in finishing drives (defense). Louisville’s scoring margin from 2017 to 2018 dropped by an incredible 35 points per game, a monumental collapse.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 7 2 -5
Road 4 10 6
Total 11 12 1

This was the second year in a row the Bulldogs didn’t fare well at home in the turnover department.

The next table is the “adjusted” or “expected” turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 6.04 3.82 -2.22
Road 5.70 8.02 2.32
Total 11.74 11.84 0.10

As mentioned in previous posts, the expected turnovers statistic is based on A) the fact that recovering fumbles is usually a 50-50 proposition, and B) a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. The “passes defensed” interception rate is calculated at 22%.

Essentially, The Citadel’s turnover margin was almost exactly what you would expect it to be. There was a bit of “turnover luck” both at home and on the road, but it all canceled out in the end.

The luckiest FBS team by far, at least in terms of turnovers, was Kansas — which makes one wonder how bad the 3-9 Jayhawks would have been if they hadn’t received a friendly roll of the dice when it came to takeaways.

Also fortunate in 2018: FIU, Maryland, Arizona State, and Georgia Tech. Among those teams not so lucky: ULM, Connecticut, UTEP, Tulane, Rutgers, and Florida State, with the Seminoles having the worst turnover luck in the country. Did I mention it was a tough year in Tallahassee?

How did The Citadel fare in the “Five Factors” head-to-head with each opponent in league play?

  • at Wofford: 2-3, with sizable edges in field position and turnovers, but a terrible efficiency number
  • Chattanooga: 2-3, again winning the field position battle, and with a slight edge in finishing drives
  • at Mercer: 2-3, coming out ahead in efficiency and turnover margin
  • ETSU: 1-4, with only an edge in finishing drives (though with most categories closely contested)
  • at VMI: 2-3, with an enormous edge in field position (and committing one fewer turnover)
  • Furman: 1-4, again having a field position edge, but not in front in any other category
  • at Western Carolina: 4-1, only trailing in explosiveness
  • Samford: 3-1-1 (neither team committed a turnover), with The Citadel playing its best 30 minutes of football all season in the 2nd half

There are three other statistical categories that I’ll mention here. All of them are included in tabs on the linked spreadsheet (and all reference SoCon games only).

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 6.50 5.59 0.91
Road 5.00 5.95 -0.45
Avg. 6.01 5.78 0.23
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.83 yards on first down in 2017
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.01 yards on first down in 2018

In 2017, the margin in this category was -0.23; last year, it flipped (in a good way) in the other direction. The Bulldogs’ first-down defense was better on the road in 2018 than it had been the previous season.

-3rd down distance to gain (in yards)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
Home 5.99 8.68 2.69
Road 6.09 7.85 1.76
Avg. 6.04 8.28 2.24

The margin in 2017 was 1.64, while it was 2.49 in 2016. Thus, last year was a nice rebound, but there is room for improvement.

In FBS, Army’s offense averaged 5.4 yards to go on third down, best in the nation. Army’s opponents averaged 8.4 yards to go on third down, also best in the nation.

In related news, Army won 11 games last season.

Definition of “passing downs”: 2nd down and 8 yards or more to go for a first down, 3rd/4th down and 5 yards or more to go for a first down

-Passing down success rate: offense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
Home 62 23 20.00%
Road 71 12 19.28%
Total 133 35 19.64%

Last season, the Bulldogs ran the ball 79.2% of the time on “passing downs”, a dramatic increase from 2017 (65.6%), and actually a higher percentage than in 2016 (75.6%). The success rate declined by more than ten percentage points, though.

I think this is an area that needs work. I will say that the emphasis on running the ball on passing downs — even more so than might be expected from a triple option team — may at least in part have been an attempt to position the offense for a more manageable 3rd-down or 4th-down play. This is not a bad idea (Army last year was extremely effective with a similar philosophy).

Still, that success rate has to increase.

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
Home 36 62 30.61%
Road 31 66 29.90%
Total 67 128 30.26%

This isn’t bad; the passing attempts success rate against the Bulldogs’ D was 32.0%. That 26.8% success rate for opponents when running the ball on passing downs was too high, though.

No matter how “advanced” the statistics are now or might become in the future, the essence of football remains the same. Run. Throw. Catch. Block. Tackle. Kick.

That is why people love watching the game. It was true 100 years ago, and it is still true today.

It is almost time for another season. It cannot come soon enough.

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2018 4th down decision-making, plus Red Zone stats, 3rd down conversion info, SoCon discussion, and more (including coin toss data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. Why is it in two parts? Well, because it is a big ol’ pile of words and numbers, and couldn’t be contained in just one post.

If you happened on this part of the writeup first, you may want to first go to Part 1 for the introduction. You can read Part 1 right here.

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, an area of the field which apparently got that moniker from none other than Joe Gibbs.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 66.7%

Better, much better. 2017 was a disaster in the Red Zone, but in 2018 the Bulldogs finished a respectable 4th in the league.

There is still room for improvement, though. My suggestion: figure out why scoring from inside the 20-yard line against VMI is so difficult.

In the last four games against the Keydets, The Citadel has only scored 6 touchdowns in 20 trips to the Red Zone. That is maddening. The ability to finish drives is paramount when the coveted Silver Shako is on the line.

When all games are taken into account, the Bulldogs had a Red Zone TD rate of 63.6% last season, good for 42nd nationally (they were 90th in 2017). Davidson, which scored touchdowns on 35 of 40 trips inside the 20-yard line, led FCS (87.5%). Also in the top five: Robert Morris, Jacksonville, North Dakota State, and North Carolina A&T.

While it helps to be proficient in the Red Zone, it isn’t an automatic indicator of success. Davidson, the subject of some discussion in Part 1 of this post, had crazy offensive numbers but was 6-5 overall (still a sizable improvement over previous years for the Wildcats).

Meanwhile, Robert Morris scored TDs in 29 of 37 Red Zone opportunities, but finished 2-9, which can happen when opponents average 43.5 points per game. Jacksonville allowed 38.7 points per game, and thus JU wound up 2-8.

On the other hand, North Dakota State and North Carolina A&T won a lot of games, as did UC Davis (6th in this category), South Dakota State (7th), San Diego (8th), Kennesaw State (10th), and Princeton (11th).

Samford was 12th, Furman 15th, Mercer 34th, South Carolina State 46th, VMI 58th, ETSU 68th, Presbyterian 71st, Wofford 73rd, Elon 90th, Western Carolina 92nd, Towson 94th, James Madison 96th, Chattanooga 98th, Charleston Southern 101st (after finishing 6th nationally in 2017), and Alabama State 124th and last (at 34.5%).

Eastern Washington had the most Red Zone opportunities in FCS, with 76 (converting 65.8% of them into TDs). James Madison had the second-most RZ chances in the subdivision (69); the Dukes also finished second in Red Zone opportunities in 2017.

Presbyterian only entered the Red Zone 17 times last season, fewest in FCS.

As far as FBS teams are concerned, UCF led the way, with a TD rate in the Red Zone of 79.7%. Following the Knights in this category were Miami (OH), Houston, Washington State, and Navy.

Other notables: Clemson (6th), Army (tied for 16th), Georgia Southern (19th), Alabama (30th), Oklahoma (32nd), Coastal Carolina (75th), South Carolina (tied for 100th), Southern California (109th), LSU (119th), and Arkansas (130th and last, at 43.2%).

The top five in Red Zone chances: Alabama (79 in 15 games), Syracuse (75 in 13 games), Clemson (75 in 15 games), Ohio (72 in 13 games), and North Carolina State (71 in 13 games).

Oklahoma was 7th, Army tied for 24th (as did Georgia Tech), South Carolina tied for 34th, and Akron finished at the bottom (only 21 times inside the 20-yard line in 12 games).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2018: 58.6%

Again, this was a big improvement from 2017. The Citadel finished 3rd in the SoCon in defensive Red Zone TD rate.

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Chattanooga, followed by Furman.

Nationally, The Citadel finished 36th in defensive Red Zone TD rate (the Bulldogs were 117th in 2017). North Carolina A&T, with a 31.0% rate, topped FCS. The Aggies were followed by North Dakota State and three northeastern programs — Holy Cross, Colgate, and Dartmouth.

James Madison was 6th, Chattanooga 7th, South Carolina State 19th, Elon 29th, Mercer 60th, Charleston Southern 61st, ETSU 63rd, Furman 65th, Western Carolina 78th, Wofford 81st, Samford 105th, Towson 106th, VMI 112th, and Morehead State 124th and last (opponents scored 42 TDs in 49 Red Zone possessions against the Eagles — 85.7%).

Quick note: Furman’s defense allowed touchdowns on 14 of 25 Red Zone trips in conference play (56%). The Paladins’ non-league opponents, however, scored on 85.7% of possessions that ventured inside the 20, which is why nationally FU is a bit lower (62.5%) than in the SoCon stats.

That discrepancy is a sample-size issue, though, and one I thought worth mentioning. Thanks to a cancellation caused by Hurricane Florence, Furman only had two non-conference opponents, and they were Clemson and Elon. Clemson was 4 for 5 scoring TDs inside the 20-yard line, and Elon was 2 for 2.

The more you know…

Princeton’s opponents only made 17 trips to the Red Zone in 10 games, fewest in all of FCS. Colgate, Dartmouth, and North Dakota State were also stingy when it came to letting teams get close to their respective end zones.

The Citadel was 61st overall, facing 41 Red Zone possessions in 11 contests. VMI tied for allowing the most opponent appearances inside the 20, with 61 in 11 games, sharing that dubious mark with Robert Morris and Northern Colorado.

Mississippi State led FBS in defensive Red Zone touchdown rate, at 29.4%. Others in the top 5: Auburn, Michigan State, Oregon, and Clemson.

Alabama tied for 56th, South Carolina was 65th, and Coastal Carolina was 103rd. None other than Oklahoma (!) finished last. The Sooners allowed TDs on 45 of 54 Red Zone trips by their opponents (83.3%).

The fewest Red Zone appearances by their opponents: Fresno State, with just 27 in 14 games. The most allowed: Connecticut, with 67 in 12 games.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2018: 45.3%

The Bulldogs finished second in the league, behind Samford (48.2%). The league average in 2018 was 39.7%. The Citadel also had the most third down conversion attempts in SoCon action.

This was another category in which Davidson (55.6%) finished first in FCS. Princeton, North Dakota State, and Yale joined the Wildcats in the top 5. Kennesaw State was 6th, Samford 10th, and The Citadel 22nd.

Furman was 24th, Western Carolina 27th, Wofford 40th, Towson 42nd, Chattanooga 44th, ETSU 61st, Elon 62nd, Mercer 72nd, VMI 92nd, Presbyterian 93rd, South Carolina State 115th, Charleston Southern 119th, and Savannah State (which is moving to D-2) 124th and last, at 23.7%.

Army led FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (57.1%). Boise State was 2nd, followed by Alabama, Oklahoma, and UCF.

Clemson was 20th, Georgia Tech 26th, South Carolina 41st, Coastal Carolina 42nd, Air Force 50th, Georgia Southern 70th, Navy 76th, North Texas 84th, New Mexico 85th, Florida Atlantic 119th, and Rice 130th and last at 28.7%.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2018: 35.1%

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bulldogs were very solid in this area.

Wofford led the league, at 30.4%. VMI, which allowed league opponents to convert third downs at a 48.1% clip, was last.

North Carolina A&T topped FCS with a defensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 25.4%. Jacksonville State, Weber State, Harvard, and Sam Houston State completed the top 5.

Wofford was 25th overall, The Citadel 38th, South Carolina State 44th, Elon 55th, Samford 68th, Furman 74th, Chattanooga 75th, Charleston Southern 85th, Towson 91st, ETSU 93rd, Presbyterian 95th, Western Carolina 106th, Mercer 109th, VMI 118th, and Butler (which definitely didn’t do it in this category) 124th and last, at 53.6%.

A brief comment: The Citadel opens its season this year with games against Towson and Elon (the latter on the road). It is clear the Bulldogs need to maintain these advantages in 3rd-down conversion rate on both sides of the ball. Another thing that has to happen for The Citadel to win either of those games, of course, is to force its opponents to face more third downs in the first place.

Miami (FL) allowed its opponent to convert only 25.3% of third down attempts last season, good enough to lead all of FBS. The Hurricanes were followed by UAB, Mississippi State, Army, and Cincinnati, with Clemson finishing 6th.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia Southern 62nd, South Carolina 70th, Air Force 94th, Coastal Carolina 115th, Navy 122th, Georgia Tech 129th, and Louisville 130th and last (51.9%). Bobby Petrino just couldn’t rally the defense on third down; hard to believe, isn’t it?

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 29 sacks, 27 passes defensed in 287 pass attempts (10.5% PD)

Note: Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions (but plays that result in sacks are not counted as part of the PD rate).

The Bulldogs led the league in sacks last season. Notice the large increase in pass plays faced by The Citadel in 2018; VMI accounts for a good chunk of that differential, and then Samford’s Devlin Hodges never quit slinging the pigskin against the Bulldogs, either.

The Citadel had 24 “hurries”, down slightly from 2017. I’m not a huge fan of that stat, because I’m not completely sure it is consistently interpreted by all game scorers.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.9%, up a little from 2017 (when it was 19.4%). The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I do not believe there is a website that compiles havoc rates for FCS teams, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.9% would have been good enough to tie Penn State for 8th nationally in FBS in 2018.

Naturally, that 19.9% was for conference games only. For the entire season, The Citadel’s havoc rate was 19.1%.

I compiled the havoc rate for the nine SoCon teams, counting all games played and not just league contests. In the table below, “TFL” stands for tackles for loss; “FF” refers to forced fumbles; and “INT/PBU” combines interceptions with passes broken up.

Team TFL FF INT/PBU Def. Plays Havoc rate
ETSU 92 10 69 840 20.4%
The Citadel 83 12 34 675 19.1%
Furman 59 11 40 680 16.2%
Chattanooga 57 16 52 779 16.0%
Wofford 70 8 48 806 15.6%
Samford 61 9 42 790 14.2%
WCU 62 11 45 837 14.1%
Mercer 60 10 40 834 13.2%
VMI 52 3 38 837 11.1%

 

Some of the raw totals were really close, as you can see.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2018: Miami (FL), Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State, and Texas A&M. The Hurricanes had a havoc rate of 24.2%.

Louisville finished last in havoc rate, at 9.1%, well behind even Connecticut and Georgia State (which tied for next to last).

In this section, I’m going to discuss “big plays”. There are different definitions of what constitutes a big play. My methodology is simple (maybe too simple); I define “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2018: 26 (13 rushing, 13 passing)

In 2016, 19 of the 26 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2017, however, that number fell to just 17 of 36, as the Bulldogs were woeful in the Red Zone.

Last year, 18 of 26 big plays directly or indirectly resulted in TDs, as The Citadel all but matched its 2016 numbers.

The Bulldogs need to increase their number of long running plays this season. There should be at least two big plays each game on the ground. Three per game would be even better.

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2018: 37 (10 rushing, 27 passing)

In 2016, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns. In 2017, 25 of 32 allowed long gainers ultimately resulted in TDs.

Last year, 23 of 37 big plays allowed immediately or eventually led to touchdowns. That isn’t a terrible rate, but 37 sizable gains given up in eight league games is obviously too many. The Bulldogs cannot afford to give up major chunks of yardage like that.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 16 of 27 (59.3%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2018: 6 for 14 converted against (49.9%

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 56.6%.

The increasing aggressiveness on 4th-down calls by the Bulldogs is noticeable and, in my opinion, promising.

For the season, The Citadel attempted 38 4th-down conversion tries, and was successful on 23 of them (60.5%). Nationally, only VMI (45) and Southern Utah (44) attempted more among FCS teams.

The Bulldogs’ 23 made conversions ranked second overall to Southern Utah (which converted 28 times, succeeding 63.6% of the time). VMI was 21 for 45 (46.7%).

North Dakota State led the subdivision in success rate on 4th down, at 85.7%; the Bison only attempted to convert 7 fourth downs, making 6 of them. Other high-percentage 4th-down teams: Princeton, Mercer, Dartmouth, and Furman. Others in the top ten included Kennesaw State (8th) and Western Carolina (9th).

Of the top nine teams, however, only Kennesaw State (34 tries) and Princeton (23) attempted as many as 20 4th-down attempts. Mercer had 10 conversion attempts; Furman, 13.

I think there is a real advantage to be gained by succeeding on 4th down, particularly in volume. For the proof of that, all anyone has to do is look at Army, which attempted 36 4th-down tries (tied for 4th in FBS) and converted an amazing 31 of them.

Making 86.1% of so many 4th-down attempts is incredible, and a big reason why the Black Knights won 11 games, especially when you factor in the fact that Army also led all of FBS in 3rd-down conversion rate (at 57.1%).

Here is one way to think about it: Army attempted 196 third-down conversions last season, making 112 of them. However, the Black Knights eventually picked up a first down 31 times after not succeeding on third down. If you throw those into the mix, Army wound up moving the chains 73% of the time after facing a third down — which is a staggering rate.

One key reason for Army’s success on 4th down: 23 of those attempts were 4th-and-1 plays. The Black Knights made 21 of them.

Which team’s offenses weren’t good on 4th down? Well, Penn was 0 for 8 on 4th-down attempts. Then there was Howard, which converted a pedestrian 36.1% of the time, but went for it on 4th down a lot, winding up 13 for 36 on the season. Only VMI (24) had more failed 4th-down conversion attempts, and as noted above the Keydets tried more of them than any other team.

Lane Kiffin ordered up the most 4th-down tries in FBS, as his Florida Atlantic squad attempted 44 of them. At 28.6%, San Jose State had the worse 4th-down conversion rate in that subdivision.

Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.

John Heisman, who was possibly a bit overzealous when it came to ball control

When evaluating fumble stats, one of the guiding principles is that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 16 (lost 8)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2018: 12 (recovered 5)

Obviously, the defense must work hard to get luckier. Perhaps the team can search local fields for four-leaf clovers.

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.55 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action: 2018: 43

The average number of total penalties against SoCon teams in league play was 48. The Citadel actually had the fewest penalties in the conference, but there was a catch: the Bulldogs were assessed more major infractions than most, resulting in 57.8 penalty yards per game (5th-most in the SoCon).

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2018: 37

For the first time in many years, the Bulldogs did not rank last in this category, as their opponents were actually called for more penalties last year than the norm. However, the penalty yardage assessed against The Citadel’s opposition was still below average.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2018, SoCon action: 4 (in eight games)

I think the Bulldogs should have gone for it on two of the four punts, to be honest, but in the end all of these moves more or less worked out for The Citadel. Perhaps the most questionable punt came in the season opener against Wofford, but the Terriers threw an interception just two plays later that set up a Bulldogs TD, so it is rather hard to argue with Brent Thompson’s decision.

The bottom line is that I’m glad there were only four.

  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2018, SoCon action: 2 (in eight games)

Don’t ask me why VMI punted on 4th and 15 at The Citadel’s 27-yard line late in the second quarter, then decided to go for it on 4th and 8 from its own 33 on the opening drive of the third quarter (in a tie game).

Ah, 4th down. That toddlin’ down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

On the spreadsheet I have categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in Southern Conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted on six of seven occasions in which it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. The exception came against Furman, a “desperation” attempt down two scores with less than a minute to play.

In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 9 times and went for it 5 times — against Wofford (2nd quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by three scores), Chattanooga (4th quarter, 4th-and-2, game tied), Mercer (1st quarter, 4th-and-1, down 7-0), East Tennessee State (less than 2 minutes to play, 4th-and-5, down by 3 points), and Samford (early in the 4th quarter, 4th-and-1, trailing by 6).

The Citadel converted three of those. The successful pickup against Samford led to a 60-yard go-ahead touchdown run on the very next play. The 4th-down pass attempt versus ETSU did not go nearly as well, to say the least. The run versus UTC would have resulted in a first down, except it was fumbled away.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 19 times and went for it on 4th down five times, making two of those. One of the two successful conversions was a “desperation” attempt.

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned earlier), one made field goal, and went for it nine times, converting seven of them. Six of the seven conversions were on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2; the other was on 4th-and-3. The two failed tries were on 4th-and-4 and 4th-and-8.

In the Red Zone, The Citadel attempted six field goals (making five), and went for it seven times (making a first down and/or touchdown on four of those).

That is an improvement over previous years. In the four preceding seasons, the Bulldogs were 2 for 8 going for it on 4th down in the Red Zone (not counting overtime games).

I also have listed what SoCon opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, it is fairly simple. Opponents punted on all eleven occasions they were faced with a fourth down.

In the Back Zone, there were 14 punts and two conversion attempts. Earlier, I mentioned VMI’s somewhat bizarre 4th-down try. The other attempt was a late-game “desperation” effort by Samford that was not successful.

In the Mid Zone, opponents punted seven times. There was one 4th-down attempt, a late-game try by Western Carolina while down 14 points. It was 4th-and-10, but the Catamounts pulled it off anyway, completing a 20-yard pass for the first down.

In the Front Zone, there was the aforementioned punt by VMI (from the Bulldogs’ 27), and five field goal attempts (two successful). On 4th-down tries, opponents were 4 for 8.

There were seven field goal attempts by the Bulldogs’ opponents in the Red Zone, with six of them sailing through the uprights. There were three 4th-down tries:

  • VMI, down 7-0 early in the 1st quarter, rushed for nine yards on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s 15-yard line (and scored on the next play).
  • Western Carolina, down 14 points with three minutes to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 4-yard line.
  • Samford, down 15 points with just over a minute to play, threw an incomplete pass on 4th-and-2 from The Citadel’s 8-yard line.

(Note: as discussed before, overtime games are not included in these tabulations.)

A few years ago, The Citadel seemed to embark on a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

In 2016, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015. The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss.

In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

So what did the Bulldogs do last year? Well, they won the coin toss four times. On two of those occasions, both at home, they deferred — but on the road at VMI and at Western Carolina, they elected to receive the opening kickoff.

I’m not sure why, unless the home/road situation was a factor. However, it had not been an issue in prior seasons.

Someone should ask Brent Thompson about this. It is certainly something that must be investigated. If necessary, Congressional hearings should be held.

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 12 minutes less to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

This was an almost complete reversal from 2017, when home games were on average 11 minutes longer than road matchups. That is because last season’s road games averaged 3:15, while the year before they clocked in at just 2:54 — a 21-minute difference. Perhaps more teams having instant replay capability resulted in increased game length.

I’m ready for football season. Isn’t everybody?

Inside the Numbers, Part 1: The Citadel’s 2018 run/pass tendencies and yards per play statistics, with some SoCon and FCS discussion as well

Other recent posts about football at The Citadel:

– Football attendance at The Citadel — an annual review

– 2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

– During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

Also of interest from around the internet:

The time a couple of cadets swiped an elephant and took it to a football game

Brent Thompson talks to SportsTalk

The Citadel was picked to finish 7th in the SoCon by both the coaches and media polls

Thompson wasn’t impressed with those polls

Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell is on the “Watch List” for the FCS Punter of the Year award (presented by the Augusta Sports Council)

“Meet the Bulldogs” is on August 24

This is Part 1 of a two-part post that focuses on select statistics on the 2018 football season. As was the case last year, I broke it down into two parts.

Part 2 can be found here.

I’ll also be releasing a couple of other stats-oriented posts in the (hopefully) near future. When I do, I’ll link them in this spot.

[Link when available!]

In recent seasons, I have written about play-calling tendencies by The Citadel’s coaching staff; I’ll continue to do that this year. I like to compare statistics over a rolling three-year period.

For this post, I’ll take a look at the 2018 season stats, and compare/contrast them with those from the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. All three campaigns have featured Brent Thompson as head coach, so there is some consistency there.

My focus will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • select defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (essentially defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big plays”), and how they impact TD drives
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting for The Citadel and its opponents (i.e. punting from inside the 50-yard line); I’m generally not a fan of this tactic
  • the all-important coin toss (with a curious change in philosophy for The Citadel!)
  • attendance and time-of-game information

Some of these items will be in Part 1, while others will be in Part 2.

First things first: The Spreadsheet

One thing you will notice is that almost all of the statistics in the spreadsheet are broken down by game. In other words, if you wanted to know about The Citadel’s yards per pass attempt versus Mercer (outstanding), or the Bulldogs’ Red Zone numbers against VMI (not good for the second straight season), or The Citadel’s time-of-possession for every quarter of every SoCon game this season, or any number of other things that you always wanted to know, but didn’t actually know that you wanted to know — well, this is the spreadsheet that you never dreamed about because you have really lame dreams.

If you didn’t want to know about any of those things, you should re-evaluate the priorities in your life.

The statistics that follow are (unless specifically noted) based on league play, and only league play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The Citadel’s on-field success or failure will be judged for the most part on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against its out-of-conference slate.

The league schedules over the last three years looked like this:

  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools that year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (with ETSU joining the league for football that season).
  • In 2017, the Bulldogs played the same SoCon opponents as they had in 2016. The Citadel faced East Tennessee State, Samford, Chattanooga, and Furman on the road, while playing Mercer, Wofford, VMI, and Western Carolina at home.
  • Last season, The Citadel’s league opponents remained unchanged. At home, the Bulldogs played Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Furman, and Samford; away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel faced Wofford, Mercer, VMI, and Western Carolina.

Caveat alert: I am reasonably confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am definitely capable of making mistakes. The SoCon included league-only stats on its website for the second year in a row, which was helpful.

I am happy to report that this year, the play-by-play data summaries were much cleaner. The glitch that affected kickoffs has been fixed, which was a blessing. Other than a weird (but easily navigable) hiccup in the Mercer game summary, and some minor issues in a couple of other summaries, I didn’t have too much trouble compiling the data I needed.

As additional references, here are the links to the spreadsheets from 2017, 2016, and 2015.

2017: Link

2016: Link

2015: Link

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2018. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2017, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2016 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 84.3% (81.1%) [86.0%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 84.3% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 81.1% of the time in 2017. The Citadel ran the ball 86.0% of the time on first down during its 2016 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 83.7% of the time in 2018, after rushing 77.9% of the time in 2017, and on 85.6% of all offensive plays in 2016. This return to running on more than four-fifths of all offensive plays can be attributed to not having to pass as much in late-game situations, which was the case in 2017. The Bulldogs did not face significant deficits last season in the way they occasionally did the year before.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 75.0% (88.9%) [94.1%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 88.0% (87.2%) [96.1%]
– 2nd-and-long: 87.6% (76.9%) [83.8%]
– 3rd-and-short: 96.2% (91.7%) [100.0%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 88.2% (83.9%) [88.5%]
– 3rd-and-long: 70.2% (57.6%) [68.1%]

There were naturally a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. For the season, Bulldog QBs were sacked 6 times in league play (after being sacked 10 times in 2017), for a loss of 38 total yards.

  • In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-short 78 times in league play, and have thrown the ball just three times, including once last season (against VMI; the pass was not completed).
  • While The Citadel threw the ball more often on 2nd-and-short last year, beware of small sample sizes: 3 of the 7 times the Bulldogs did so were against ETSU, with two of those passes coming on The Citadel’s final drive, while trailing and running out of time.
  • To sum up, last year on 2nd-and-short and 3rd-and-short, the Bulldogs went back to pass eight times. The results were not good; The Citadel was 2-7 throwing the ball for 28 yards, with one sack/lost fumble. The Bulldogs have to take better advantage of the surprise element when passing in those down-and-distance situations.
  • The Citadel threw the ball on first down far more often versus ETSU and Furman than any of its other SoCon opponents. Twenty of the Bulldogs’ 35 first-down passes came against those two squads.

In this section, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations over the last three seasons.

Overall, conference opponents rushed on only 42.4% of their plays from scrimmage against the Bulldogs in 2018, after doing so on 53.5% of their plays in 2017 and 49.7% of their plays in 2016. On first down, league teams rushed 44.0% of time, as compared to 62.5% two years ago and 56.2% in 2016.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage). The 2017 numbers are in parenthesis, while the 2016 stats are in brackets.

– 2nd-and-short: 73.7% (81.8%) [75.9%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 46.4% (61.0%) [47.9%]
– 2nd-and-long: 39.7% (41.5%) [44.8%]
– 3rd-and-short: 83.3% (78.6%) [66.7%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 41.7% (46.7%) [36.4%]
– 3rd-and-long: 27.8% (22.6%) [27.3%]

Some of the differences between last year and the previous two seasons can be attributed to game situation circumstances (i.e., The Citadel trailed more often in 2017 than in the other two years).

Another factor is VMI’s transition to the Air Raid, which markedly changed things in a couple of categories. Notably, the Keydets called pass plays on first down a remarkable 37 out of 40 times against the Bulldogs.

  • Teams that passed more than they rushed against The Citadel were 1-4 against the Bulldogs (Chattanooga won; Mercer, VMI, Western Carolina, and Samford all lost).
  • In 2017, Mercer did not attempt a pass versus the Bulldogs on either 2nd-and-short or 2nd-and-medium. Last year, the Bears faced six of those particular down-and-distance situations, and threw the ball on four of them.
  • VMI was the only SoCon squad to pass the ball on 3rd-and-short against The Citadel, doing so twice.
  • Samford did not run the ball once versus The Citadel on 2nd-and-medium, 3rd-and-medium, 3rd-and-long, or on 4th down.

In the next few sections of this post, I’m going to alternate offensive and defensive numbers.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon action: 70.1 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2018 in SoCon action: 69.0 plays per game, 11.6 possessions per game

*Overtime possessions are not included in any of the conference-only statistics, for the sake of consistency (and avoiding statistical sample size issues).

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team doesn’t attempt to score (such as a kneel-down situation). That accounts for any possession discrepancies between my numbers and a game summary.

Last year, the Bulldogs had a time of possession edge in league play of almost six minutes (32:55 – 27:05), which was the second season in a row TOP for The Citadel declined slightly. In 2017, the Bulldogs kept the ball for 33:10, while in 2016 they held it for 33:41.

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters in 2018, with the second quarter being the outlier. The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in every game except one (Furman, the second consecutive season the Paladins had the edge in that category).

Nationally (counting all games, not just conference matchups), the Bulldogs finished fifth in total time of possession per contest, behind Cal Poly, Portland State, Wofford, and Yale. In the previous two seasons, The Citadel had finished first (2017) and second (2016) in TOP.

The bottom three teams in the FCS for time of possession per game were VMI (third from last), Brown (second from last), and Prairie View A&M (last, at 24:26).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 SoCon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 SoCon play: 58.8 plays per game, 11.8 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 SoCon play: 62.3 plays per game, 11.5 possessions per game

VMI and Samford each broke the 80-play mark against the Bulldogs’ defense, but The Citadel won both of those games anyway. The 89 offensive plays run by Samford were the most faced by The Citadel in at least the last five years, and probably longer than that. By way of comparison, Charlotte’s offense ran “only” 88 plays in the wild 63-56 2OT game The Citadel had with the 49ers in 2014.

The school’s official record book states the most plays run by an opponent against the Bulldogs is 99, by Davidson in 1972. The Bulldogs won that game 25-16, despite committing seven turnovers (the Wildcats only managed to score three points after all of those takeaways, and also committed five turnovers themselves).

Another memorable aspect of that matchup with Davidson: The Citadel was assessed a fifteen-yard delay of game penalty before the contest even started. The team was penalized because the band was late getting off of the field.

Annual note: while NCAA statistical records count sack yardage against rushing totals, the NFL considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost. I take the NFL’s position on this, because it makes much more sense. Thus, all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2017 in SoCon games: 5.38 yards per play, including 5.24 yards per rush and 7.0 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2018 in SoCon games: 5.36 yards per play, including 4.89 yards per rush and 7.8 yards per pass attempt

The rushing yards per play numbers were down by a fairly significant margin. They did trend upward towards the end of the season, however.

– 2016 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 83 pass attempts for 615 yards (two interceptions)

– 2017 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 114 pass attempts for 797 yards (five interceptions)

– 2018 passing for The Citadel in eight conference games: 90 pass attempts for 701 yards (three interceptions)

That 2018 line isn’t going to match up with the SoCon official totals, mostly because of the sacks issue, and also because it doesn’t include a nine-yard pass completion in overtime against Chattanooga. As I mentioned earlier, overtime statistics are not included (because they tend to radically skew the numbers).

While it was somewhat disappointing that The Citadel couldn’t break the 8-yard per pass attempt barrier in SoCon action, the Bulldogs actually fare well in this category when compared to the rest of the league. I ran the numbers for each of the nine teams in conference play, taking sacks into account. Here are the results:

 

Furman 8.44
The Citadel 7.80
Wofford 7.45
Samford 7.40
Mercer 6.95
Western Carolina 6.76
Chattanooga 6.10
ETSU 5.49
VMI 5.19

Because The Citadel does not throw the ball very often, however, it still needs to improve in this area. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that when the Bulldogs do toss the pigskin into the air, they need to really make it count.

Let’s take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll include stats from select FBS teams as well, concentrating (in that subdivision) on schools that run the triple option, teams of local interest, and a few others.

The Bulldogs’ offense was 84th nationally in yards per play, with a 5.23 average (all games). Davidson led FCS, averaging 7.79 yards per play while running the curiously named “gun-spread” offense.

This was just one of several offensive categories in which the Wildcats (a much-improved 6-5 last year) finished near (or at) the top of the subdivision; winning a game by a 91-61 score can certainly help your stats, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Davidson also had seven other games in which it scored at least 40 points; the Wildcats were 4-3 in those contests.

Davidson was followed in the yards per play department by South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota State, and Princeton, all of which enjoyed outstanding seasons in 2018. SoCon teams in the top 50:  Wofford was 13th, Samford 20th, Western Carolina was 23rd, and Mercer was 33rd.

Kennesaw State was 11th, Hampton 22nd, Towson 34th, Elon 63rd, Charleston Southern 101st, South Carolina State 103rd, Presbyterian 111th, and VMI 112th. Bucknell finished 124th and last, averaging just 3.49 yards per play.

Oklahoma led FBS in yards per play again last season, with a mind-boggling 8.60 average. Other FBS rankings in this category of interest: Alabama (2nd, at 7.76 yards per play), Clemson (3rd), Memphis (4th), Mississippi (5th), UCF (9th), Appalachian State (14th), South Carolina (24th), Georgia Tech (39th), Georgia Southern (53rd), Coastal Carolina (59th), Air Force (tied for 72nd), Army (79th), Navy (tied for 101st), Florida State (110th), New Mexico (tied for 116th), Central Michigan (130th and last, at 3.78 yards per play).

The Bulldogs’ overall yards per rush was 38th-best in FCS, third in the SoCon behind Wofford (8th) and Western Carolina (20th).

The FCS top five in yards per rush attempt: Davidson (7.44 yards/rush), Eastern Washington, Princeton, South Dakota State, and North Dakota State (the same top five for overall yards/play). Kennesaw State was 9th, Towson 33rd, Elon 47th, Mercer 49th, Charleston Southern 53rd, ETSU 54th, Furman 69th, South Carolina State 72nd, Presbyterian 99th, Chattanooga 100th, VMI 121st, and Fordham 124th and last, averaging only 1.71 yards per rush.

I should point out (not for the first time) that these national rushing numbers include sacks. You may recall that in 2017 Mississippi Valley State actually finished with a negative rushing total, due to a ton of sacks (and some less-than-stellar actual rushing). This past year, the Delta Devils managed to finish in the positive column (115th nationally).

Oklahoma’s amazing offense led FBS in yards per rush at 6.57, just ahead of Clemson. Memphis, Wisconsin, and Ohio rounded out the top five.

Illinois was a somewhat surprising 6th, followed by Georgia, UCF, and Appalachian State. Georgia Tech and Maryland tied for 10th. Others of note: Georgia Southern (17th), Alabama (23rd), Army (31st), Navy (32nd), Air Force (tied for 41st), Coastal Carolina (48th), South Carolina (58th), Ohio State (tied for 76th), New Mexico (tied for 113th), Florida State (129th), and San Jose State (130th and very much last, at 2.07 yards per rush).

In terms of yards per pass attempt, The Citadel finished 18th nationally in FCS, at 8.3 yards/attempt. (That obviously includes all games.)

Another triple option team, Kennesaw State, led FCS teams at 9.73 yards per attempt. North Dakota State was 2nd, San Diego 3rd, Davidson 4th, South Dakota State 5th, and Furman 6th.

Wofford was 28th in the category, while Mercer was 31st, Western Carolina 36th, and Samford 37th. Towson was 46th, Elon 63rd, VMI 109th (with 19 interceptions, most in the subdivision), Charleston Southern 119th, and Bucknell last (at 4.95 yards per attempt).

In case you were wondering, Bucknell finished 1-10 last year.

Oklahoma completed the FBS yards-per-play triple crown by leading in yards per pass attempt, at 11.3, just ahead of Alabama (11.1). The Crimson Tide had a slightly better passing rating, thanks to a tiny edge in TD-to-interception ratio.

Two triple option teams also had great stats in this area. Army finished third in yards per pass attempt (10.6), and Georgia Southern finished 9th (8.8). In addition, the Eagles went the entire season without throwing an interception, the only FBS team to do so (Cal Poly also went INT-free in FCS).

Georgia Southern threw ten TD passes in 117 attempts. On the other hand, Rutgers had only five TD tosses in 351 attempts, tied for the lowest number of touchdown passes in FBS (with Navy, which passed the ball 223 fewer times). The Scarlet Knights also led FBS in interceptions thrown, with 22, and tied with Central Michigan for an FBS-worst 4.5 yards per pass attempt.

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 5.69 yards per play, including 4.87 yards per rush and 7.5 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2018 in SoCon action: 6.18 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 6.5 yards per pass attempt

The Bulldogs were better against the pass in 2018 than they were the season before, though not quite at the level as they were in 2016. The Citadel only had one truly bad game against the pass in league play, against Chattanooga (but it was definitely bad).

The yards allowed per rush stat is concerning. The Citadel got burned on some big rushing plays, particularly against Wofford and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs also gave up a 41-yard scramble to Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges, which really bumped up the opponent’s yards per rush for that game, especially since SU only had 15 rushing plays in the entire contest.

Nationally in FCS (stats are for all games, of course), The Citadel was 104th in defensive yards allowed per play (6.44). Colgage led FCS in this category, at 3.85 yards per play. Also in the top five: Dartmouth, Drake, Georgetown, and North Carolina A&T.

Colgate undoubtedly had an excellent defense, but also was the beneficiary of playing four of the bottom five teams in yards per play (Bucknell, Fordham, Georgetown, William and Mary). Having said that, the Raiders only lost two games all season (to Army and North Dakota State) and beat James Madison in the FCS playoffs. Colgate was a very solid club.

Georgetown managed to finish in the top 5 in defensive yards per play, and the bottom five in offensive yards per play. That strikes me as a novel accomplishment.

The Hoyas (5-6 in 2018) were sturdy against the pass, and other than Dartmouth and Colgate, nobody ran the ball — at least, not successfully — against Georgetown all season. The Hoyas’ offense often had trouble moving the football too, however.

Other teams of varied interest: Kennesaw State was 6th, James Madison 10th, North Dakota State 18th, Wofford 21st, Charleston Southern 23rd, ETSU 28th, Chattanooga 33rd, Samford 38th, Elon 50th, South Carolina State 65th, Towson 76th, Furman 87th, Presbyterian 91st, Mercer 102nd, Western Carolina 105th, VMI 113th, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff 124th and last (allowing 8.55 yards per play, far and away the worst average in FCS).

Mississippi State was the top FBS defense in yards per play (4.13). Clemson was 2nd, followed by Miami (FL), Appalachian State, and Michigan State.

Alabama was 24th, Georgia 25th, Georgia Southern 48th, South Carolina tied for 56th, Army tied for 59th, and Connecticut deader-than-dead last at 130th, allowing 8.81 yards per play. As noted by multiple members of the college football media, Oklahoma only had the second-best offense last season — because the best offense was whatever team played UConn in a given week.

Among all FCS squads, The Citadel was 68th in yards allowed per rush (4.53). Keep in mind (sorry for repeating this) this number does not separate sacks, which are included in the NCAA’s rush statistics (thus accounting for the wide difference from the SoCon-only numbers presented above).

The top five in this category: Maine (2.42 yards allowed per rush), Dartmouth, Drake, Georgetown, and Alcorn State.

Colgate was 6th, North Carolina A&T 8th, James Madison 9th, Kennesaw State 11th, Wofford 12th, North Dakota State 18th, ETSU 28th, Chattanooga 38th, Eastern Washington 40th, Charleston Southern 41st, Samford 42nd, Elon 48th, Monmouth 53rd, Furman 63rd, Towson 79th, South Carolina State 90th, Davidson 95th (basically the opposite of Georgetown when it came opponents running the football), Western Carolina 98th, Presbyterian 112th, VMI 113th, Gardner-Webb 122nd, and Cal Poly 124th and last (7.51 yards allowed per rush).

In the land of FBS, Clemson’s defense allowed only 2.51 yards per rush, leading the nation. The Tigers were followed by Michigan State, Northern Illinois, Mississippi State, and Utah.

Air Force was 17th, Florida State 20th, Alabama 21st (Dante Smith’s 14.4 yards-per-carry put a dent in the Crimson Tide’s average), Georgia Southern 43rd, Georgia 49th, South Carolina 78th, Georgia Tech 89th, Coastal Carolina 127th, and Connecticut 130th and last (7.67 yards allowed per rush).

Tangent: speaking of that game against Alabama, let’s just revisit one stat from it, shall we? From SB Nation:

Nick Saban’s defense had given up fewer than 100 yards on defense in the first half all season. The Citadel had 149 yards of total offense in the first half alone.

I had not seen that statistic before last month, when I encountered it while doing some research. It is kind of amazing. Just remember, though, that in 2018 The Citadel’s best half of football against a team from the state of Alabama came during Homecoming. Never forget that.

The Citadel was 113th in opposing yards per pass attempt in 2018. Again, that number is a bit different from the SoCon stats listed earlier because of the sacks issue, but it is also true the Bulldogs struggled against the pass in two of their three non-conference games, against Alabama (allowing 14.3 yards per pass attempt) and Towson (11.9).

There is no doubt this will be a point of emphasis for The Citadel when the Bulldogs face Tom Flacco and Towson in the season opener.

Colgate led FCS in defensive yards per pass attempt, at 5.06. Also in the top five: Prairie View A&M, Dartmouth, North Carolina A&T, and Campbell.

Georgetown was 7th, Kennesaw State 12th, James Madison 21st, ETSU 33rd, Wofford 39th, Chattanooga 47th, South Carolina State 53rd, Samford 55th, Elon 58th, Presbyterian 67th, Charleston Southern 70th, Towson 82nd, Furman 91st, Mercer 101st, Western Carolina 103rd, VMI 117th, Davidson 121st (basically the opposite of Georgetown when it came to defending the pass, too), and Arkansas-Pine Bluff 124th and last (allowing 11.03 yards per pass attempt).

Mississippi State led FBS in opposing yards per pass attempt (5.6). Miami was second, followed by Temple, Notre Dame, and Penn State.

LSU was 9th, Michigan 10th, Georgia 17th, Clemson 26th, Alabama 30th, South Carolina 55th, Georgia Southern 68th, Army 80th, Georgia Tech 85th, Navy 113th, Coastal Carolina 118th, Air Force 122nd, and Connecticut 130th and last (allowing 10.7 yards per pass attempt, and also winning the reverse defense triple crown).

That concludes Part 1 of Inside The Numbers.

Part 2 will include offensive/defensive statistics for Red Zone play and 3rd-down conversion rates. Also discussed: sacks, passes defensed, fumbles, penalties, punts, big plays, 4th down decision-making, a comparison of league attendance and game length, and (what everyone has been anxiously awaiting) coin toss strategy.

Link to Part 2