Game Review, 2017: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release

Video from WCSC-TV, including postgame discussion with Brent Thompson

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

ESPN3 video of the game

This isn’t going to be a long review (and it is late, for reasons not having anything to do with the game itself). Nevertheless, I wanted to make a few quick observations.

– The Citadel threw 13 passes in the first half — six in the first quarter, and seven in the second quarter. The Bulldogs completed five of their first six throws, but were only 1-for-7 in the second quarter.

I wasn’t really sure why The Citadel threw so often in the first half. Later in the game, sure, but it seemed to me that the Bulldogs got out of their natural offensive rhythm. I realize much of the passing was based on what Mercer’s defense was doing, but I still thought it was odd.

– The two-deep for Saturday’s game included ten freshmen on offense (five starters) and seven on defense. The Bulldogs also featured a freshman punter and numerous other first-year players on all the special teams units.

It showed at times, particularly on offense. The Bulldogs may be better later in the season once this group of players has more experience, but that fact may be hard for some supporters to accept.

– Dominique Allen played the entire game at quarterback, as Jordan Black did not take a snap under center. Brent Thompson explained why:

Just a different game plan. We ran a lot more zone options last week (at Samford). This week, it was more operational, and Dom was operating just fine. We had to move pretty quickly, because (Mercer’s defense) was moving around quite a bit, and one quarterback seems to suit me better with all those moving parts.

I don’t have a problem with that decision. Allen certainly wasn’t making bad plays. The only real reason to change QBs in that situation is if you think just making a switch could spark the team, and Thompson clearly didn’t believe that.

However, I wish Thompson could have gone into the stands during one of the media timeouts and explained the situation to the fan behind me who yelled “Put in Black!” at least 300 times during the game.

– The officials didn’t decide the game, but they weren’t in good form, either, unless you enjoy the art of haphazard ball-spotting.

The SoCon crew seemed to delight in delaying the game for instant replay reviews whenever possible (one reason the contest took 3:21 to play), but there was somehow no review of a punt that hit a Mercer gunner in the back on a would-be return.

ESPN announcer Kevin Fitzgerald, looking at the scrum of players around the football: “Whoever comes out of this pile physically holding it is going to get the football.”

You would have thought so, but nope. The Citadel’s Logan Bailey came out of the pile with the football. The referee looked at him — and then awarded possession to Mercer.

I guess that play wasn’t worth a review. Maybe the wrong team recovered the football.

– It was one of the muggier days at Johnson Hagood Stadium in recent memory, which made the length of the game all the more arduous. The announced attendance was disappointing (9,969), which was due to a lot of factors, including the heat (I’m sure a significant number of people with tickets wound up not going to the game).

This is just a theory of mine, but I believe one thing that will improve attendance is a permanent seating structure on the East side. That isn’t going to be around again until at least the 2019 season, of course.

This week’s pictures aren’t half-bad, at least compared to most weeks. They are currently not annotated (I may go back and do that later). They are in order, however, so anyone trying to piece together plays/results can use the play-by-play from the box score to match things up (at least through most of the first three quarters).

2017 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Mercer, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 7, 2017.

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– The Citadel won’t hit the panic button

– Back at home after a month away

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is ranked #17)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is ranked #17)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/3 press conference, including comments from Tyler Davis and Kailik Williams (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/4 radio show (video)

– The Bulldog Breakdown [10/2] (video)

Mercer running game searching for its rhythm

Bears rout VMI

Mercer is right back in the SoCon title race

Bobby Lamb says the series has been “a bloodbath”

Mercer’s student newspaper: this is the best MU team since football was re-instituted in 2013

Mercer highlights versus VMI (video)

Mercer highlights versus Wofford (video)

It is very disappointing when the Bulldogs throw in a complete clunker of a game, regardless of the sport. That is magnified in football, however, because there are only a limited number of opportunities to generate a positive outcome. It is important to make the most of each and every contest.

That didn’t happen on Saturday. The contest was essentially over after the first quarter. I know that the team “played better” in the second half, but does that really matter? I don’t think so, to be honest.

Garbage time is garbage time, particularly when the team in question is not an extremely young squad, but rather an outfit coming off consecutive league titles and expected to compete for another one. There are no truly positive developments to be taken from the debacle at Seibert Stadium. It was simply a bad loss.

That said, the following is also true: many of the players and coaches on the current team have been part of the pigskin scene at the military college for the last 2+ years.

Over that time period The Citadel is 22-7, 15-2 in the SoCon, with two conference crowns and a win over an SEC team (along with a road playoff triumph). The next victory by the current edition of the Bulldogs will tie the 1959-60-61 teams for most wins by the program over a three-year period (23).

In other words, there are a bunch of winners on the roster. They are used to success, and they’re not likely to take a step back after a bad performance.

Temporary stands have been set up on the East side of Johnson Hagood Stadium in time for the game against Mercer:

Seating has been added to the east side of Johnson Hagood Stadium for the stretch run of the 2017 season. The seating is general admission and will be available on a first-come, first-serve so fans are encouraged to purchase their general admission tickets in advance. The seating is in close proximity to the Bulldog Beer Garden and the Kids’ Zone…

The Bulldog Beer Garden…is located next to the Altman Center on the southeast side of the stadium. Concessions including food and beverages will be located in this area presented by Sticky Fingers.  The adjacent location will also have a kid’s fun zone with inflatables for children of appropriate ages.  The Bulldog Beer Garden will be tented, accommodate up to 500 patrons, and will have TVs playing football games of interest…

…[the Kids’ Zone] includes Jumpcastles, face painting, and other fun activities [that] are available for ages 12 & under.

The temporary seating (not including the beer garden) will have room for approximately 1,000 spectators.

Saturday’s game is part of Parents’ Weekend. Schedule of events: Link

On Friday, seniors will receive their class rings. That is a big deal at The Citadel, of course, even for football players who have already picked up their fair share of hardware. As Kailik Williams said:

It means a lot. A lot of people didn’t think I was going to make it. Sometimes, I didn’t even think I was going to make it.

There are plenty of alums who can relate to that sentiment.

The football program is currently on a very good run when it comes to the “celebration games”, Parents’ Day and Homecoming. The Citadel has won ten straight of those contests, winning on Parents’ Day and Homecoming in each of the last five seasons.

From what I can tell, that is the longest winning streak in those games since the Bulldogs’ first Homecoming game — which, according to former school president/historian Oliver Bond, occurred in 1924. The Citadel defeated Furman 6-0 in that October 25 contest at Hampton Park before more than 4,000 fans, with Anderson native Carl Hogrefe scoring the winning touchdown.

However, five Parents’ Day wins in a row is not a school record. The mark for sustained success on Parents’ Day is eight, a streak that began in 1978 with a 21-14 win over Delaware and lasted through 1985, a 10-3 victory over Western Carolina.

The Citadel has not played Mercer on Parents’ Day or Homecoming before this season.

The Bulldogs led FCS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate prior to the Samford game (61%). However, The Citadel only converted 3 of 13 third-down attempts last Saturday.

A look at first down/third down plays explains why, especially when compared to the first three games this season.

Average yards picked up on first down by The Citadel:

  • vs. Newberry: 8.1 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 7.0 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 6.0 yards
  • vs. Samford: 5.2 yards

That is not a great trend.

It also leads to more difficult third down situations for the Bulldogs:

  • vs. Newberry: average of 5.1 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Presbyterian: average of 3.0 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. East Tennessee State: average of 6.3 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down
  • vs. Samford: average of 8.8 yards needed on third down to pick up a first down

Those third down conversion attempts against Samford included a 3rd-and-15, a 3rd-and-19, and a 3rd-and-28.

Penalties were a major factor in the offensive struggles. The Bulldogs were flagged eight times on offense (not counting two other infractions that were declined).

On defense, the Bulldogs have to do a better job against the pass.

Yards per pass attempt allowed:

  • vs. Newberry: 7.2 yards
  • vs. Presbyterian: 5.1 yards
  • vs. East Tennessee State: 5.7 yards
  • vs. Samford: 12.4

You aren’t going to win many games allowing 12.4 yards per pass attempt.

It should be noted, though, that The Citadel’s offense averaged 10.9 yards per pass attempt itself, in line with its season average. I wouldn’t mind that number for the Bulldogs in any game they play during the season.

Key stats for The Citadel through four games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 31.0 20.2
Rushing yardage 1334 351
Average per rush 5.0 3.5
Average per game 333.5 87.8
TDs rushing 12 5
Passing yardage 440 822
Comp-Att-Int 20-42-2 66-108-7
Average per pass 10.5 7.6
TDs passing 5 6
Total offense 1774 1173
Total plays 309 207
Yards per play 5.74 5.67
Kick returns-yards 6-128 12-236
Punt returns-yards 6-44 1-1
Fumbles/lost 6/1 2/1
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.0/43.0 2.5/23.8
Net punt average 39.7 37.2
Time of possession/game 37:24 22:36
3rd down conversions 33/62 12/38
3rd down conversion rate 53.2% 31.6%
Sacks by-yards 8-44 3-20
Field goals-attempts 2-3 1-2
Red Zone touchdown rate 13-19 (68.4%) 6-9 (66.7%)
  • The Citadel leads the nation in time of possession
  • The Bulldogs are second nationally in rushing offense and 14th in the country in rushing defense
  • Despite the 3rd down struggles last week, The Citadel is still 4th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate
  • Defensively, the Bulldogs are 22nd nationally in third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 12th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in net punting
  • Even with 10 accepted penalties versus Samford, The Citadel is 17th nationally in fewest penalties per game
  • The Citadel is 35th in scoring offense and 29th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 12th in offensive pass efficiency, a number that includes The Citadel’s 22 yards per catch rate, tops in FCS

Mercer has been competitive ever since joining the Southern Conference in time for the 2014 football season. The Bears have had a habit of playing close games. What they have not done as often as MU fans would like is win those games.

Since 2014, Mercer has played 14 conference games decided by five points or less. The Bears are 4-10 in those contests. Three of those losses have come against The Citadel, by a total of five points.

Of the four close SoCon victories, two have come on the road (both against VMI). One of the two home wins was a 17-14 decision over Chattanooga in 2015, a result that helped The Citadel claim a share of the Southern Conference title.

This year, Mercer has lost two hard-fought SoCon contests, including a home loss to Wofford that the Bears probably should have won.

Mercer’s schedule after five games:

  • beat Jacksonville 48-7, an easy win over an overmatched Pioneer League foe (JU has recovered to win its next 3 games, though)
  • lost 28-27 to Wofford, a game in which the Bears led by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter
  • played very well (particularly on defense) in a 24-10 loss at Auburn; Mercer forced five turnovers in that contest
  • lost 26-23 in overtime at East Tennessee State; MU led by 10 points entering the fourth quarter
  • defeated VMI 49-14, rolling up 575 yards of offense in the process

Statistics of note for the Bears:

Mercer Opponents
Points per game 31.4 19.8
Rushing yardage 790 721
Average per rush 3.9 3.4
Average per game 158 144.2
TDs rushing 10 9
Passing yardage 1108 1009
Comp-Att-Int 83-135-5 88-125-5
Average per pass 8.2 8.1
TDs passing 10 3
Total offense 1898 1730
Total plays 340 334
Yards per play 5.58 5.18
Kick returns-yards 12-242 22-267
Punt returns-yards 7-75 7-68
Fumbles/lost 4/2 9/6
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 5.4/46.2 6.2/62.8
Net punt average 37.4 35.3
Time of possession/game 29:15 30:45
3rd down conversions 28/67 32/72
3rd down conversion rate 41.8% 44.4%
Sacks by-yards 9-57 6-48
Field goals-attempts 4-6 3-6
Red Zone touchdown rate 15/20 (75.0%) 8/15 (53.3%)
  • Mercer leads the nation in kick return defense
  • The Bears are 30th nationally in net punting
  • MU is 40th in FCS in offensive third down conversion rate and
  • Conversely, the Bears are 100th (out of 123 teams) in defensive third down conversion rate
  • Mercer is 54th in rushing offense and 57th in rushing defense
  • MU is 31st in scoring offense and 27th in scoring defense
  • Mercer is 23rd nationally in turnover margin, helped by six recovered fumbles on defense (1oth-best in FCS)

Mercer’s passing attack accounts for 58.3% of its total offense, though only 41.5% of its offensive plays from scrimmage are passing attempts (including sacks).

After four years as the starter, MU quarterback John Russ graduated. Mercer had a replacement ready, however.

Redshirt freshman Kaelan Riley (6’3″, 222 lbs.) is 80 for 132 passing this season (a 60.6% completion rate), averaging 8.3 yards per attempt, with 10 TD passes against five interceptions. The native of Calhoun, Georgia accounted for 75 touchdowns in high school (with a win-loss record of 54-4) while also playing basketball and tennis. Brent Thompson described him as a “spectacular” player.

Running back C.J. Leggett (5’9″, 217 lbs.) began his college career at Georgia Tech. After an injury, he transferred to Mesa Community College.

The redshirt junior from Suwanee, Georgia is averaging 4.6 yards per carry for the Bears. In recent weeks, his workload has increased, despite not being listed as the starter on the two-deep. He rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries versus ETSU, and added 89 yards on 16 rushes against VMI.

Other MU running backs of note include Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 203 lbs.) and Alex Lakes (5’11”, 221 lbs.). Lakes has had an injury-ravaged career, but the redshirt senior is still Mercer’s all-time leading rusher.

Mitchell was a second-team All-SoCon pick in 2015, but was suspended for the entire 2016 season. He is now back and a definite threat in the backfield.

Two years ago, Mitchell (a former Air Force Prep school student) and Lakes combined for 98 yards and a TD against The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Junior tight end Sam Walker (6’4″, 229 lbs.) was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection. He did not play versus VMI, but is expected to suit up against The Citadel.

Wide receiver Marquise Irvin (6’2″, 215 lbs.) is a junior from Huntsville, Alabama. He was a second-team all-conference choice in 2016. Irvin had eight catches for 81 yards in last year’s game against the Bulldogs.

Brent Thompson noted that Mercer does a good job of getting Irvin the pigskin, including bubble screens. He can catch the deep ball too.

Avery Ward (6’2″, 191 lbs.) is a senior wideout from Alpharetta, Georgia, who has been a regular for the Bears since his freshman campaign. In 2014, he had 104 yards receiving (including a 65-yard TD catch) against The Citadel. He also led the team in catches versus the Bulldogs the following season.

Chandler Curtis (5’11”, 200 lbs.) is a senior who, when not injured, is a fine wide receiver and a scintillating return man. The problem for Curtis over his college career has been staying healthy.

He was healthy enough to haul in a 61-yard touchdown pass against VMI last week. Curtis has been the primary punt and kick returner for the Bears this season.

Mercer’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 298 lbs. Right guard Caleb Yates (6’3″, 294 lbs.) is a three-year starter who was a preseason second-team all-league pick.

Mercer noseguard Dorian Kithcart (6’0″, 285 lbs.) was described by Brent Thompson as a “big load” who “moves extremely well”. He is a redshirt sophomore from Durham.

Defensive end Isaiah Buehler (6’3″, 262 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. This season he has 2 1/2 tackles for loss, along with 2 quarterback hurries.

Eric Jackson (5’8″, 190 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore from Powder Springs, Georgia, is a strong safety who currently leads the team in tackles. He has 39 stops through five games.

Inside linebacker Lee Bennett (6’0″, 221 lbs.) is filling up the stat sheet for the Bears this season. He is second on the team in tackles, and also has two tackles for loss (including a sack), a quarterback hurry, a pass breakup, and a fumble recovery. Bennett had six tackles versus The Citadel in 2016.

LeMarkus Bailey (5’11”, 201 lbs.), an outside linebacker, leads the team in tackles for loss, with 6 1/2. The native of Marietta, Georgia is a redshirt junior. He had one of the three tackles for loss Mercer recorded against The Citadel in last year’s contest.

Placekicker Cole Fisher (6’1″, 190 lbs.) was the preseason first-team all-conference kicker. Fisher made a 50-yard field goal against Samford last year. This year he hasn’t made one of that distance, though he did attempt a 52-yarder versus Jacksonville.

Fisher is also Mercer’s kickoff specialist. While only four of his 29 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks, opponents are only averaging 12 yards per return against the Bears (which leads the nation, as mentioned earlier).

Mercer’s punter is true freshman Grant Goupil (6’2″, 184 lbs.). Nine of his 22 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, with an expected high of 84 degrees. It will be mostly cloudy, with winds of 6-14 mph.

I have a feeling it is going to be one of those wet and windy days. Field conditions could be tricky for both teams and might favor the defenses.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6-point favorite over Mercer. The over/under is 50.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 4-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 35-point favorite at VMI; Wofford is a 3.5-point favorite over Western Carolina; and East Tennessee State is an 8.5-point favorite over Robert Morris;

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 21.5-point favorite over Wake Forest; South Carolina is a 2.5-point home underdog versus Arkansas; South Carolina State is a 16.5-point favorite against Morgan State ; Coastal Carolina is a 1-point underdog at home versus Georgia State; Presbyterian is a 20-point home underdog against St. Francis University (which upset Liberty last week); and Charleston Southern is a 31-point underdog at Indiana.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 42nd in FCS, a drop of 12 spots from last week.

Mercer is ranked 56th in FCS, moving up three places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 176th, while Mercer is 202nd.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 26, Mercer 23. The Bulldogs are given a 56% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 17th (up one spot), Samford is 24th (up 14 spots), Western Carolina is 29th (a jump of 18 places, the second week in a row the Catamounts have moved up exactly 18 spots), Furman is 35th (up 8 places), Charleston Southern is 38th, Chattanooga is 54th (down 22 spots), East Tennessee State is 76th (down six places), South Carolina State is 87th, Presbyterian is 101st, and VMI is 109th (down three places).

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

– Since 1911, The Citadel has a 9-5-1 record for games played on October 7. That includes two wins over Richmond and victories over the Charleston Navy and the Parris Island Marines.

The Bulldogs last played at home on October 7 during the 2004 season. That was a Thursday night game against Benedict in Johnson Hagood Stadium during the year of “half a stadium”, which included temporary stands for the cadets on the West side (shades of this week’s game in reverse).

I was at that contest (won by the Bulldogs 29-0), which is on the short list for “worst atmosphere” of any game every played by The Citadel at JHS. Attendance: 5,127, which I believe is the lowest recorded for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium since at least 1964.

– Changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the Mercer game: Gage Russell is now listed as the starter at punter; the backup at that position is Branden Glick. At B-back, Brandon Berry has been added to the depth chart.

– Baseball facts about Mercer that I am required to mention every time the Bulldogs meet the Bears:

Mercer was once coached by George Stallings, who helmed both the football and baseball teams. He was a little better at coaching baseball.

Stallings would later become known as “The Miracle Man” for leading the Boston Braves to the 1914 World Championship. That team was in last place in the National League on the 4th of July but stormed to the pennant (by 10 1/2 games!), then dispatched the favored Philadelphia Athletics in a four-game sweep to win the World Series.

Denton True “Cy” Young served as Mercer’s baseball coach from 1903-05. Mercer won the Georgia state championship for college teams in all three of those years.

After each spring in Macon with the Mercer team, Young returned to pitch for Boston (the team now known as the Red Sox); during that three-year stretch, he compiled a major league record of 72-44 with a 1.96 ERA.

– Among Mercer’s notable graduates are TV personality/attack dog Nancy Grace, missionary/spy John Birch, and current Georgia governor Nathan Deal.

– Mercer disbanded its football program following the 1941 campaign, and didn’t field a team again until 2013. This is the fifth year for the program since the re-institution of the sport in Macon.

– The roster for Mercer (per its game notes) includes 62 players from the State of Georgia. Other states represented on the roster: Florida (15 players), Tennessee (9), Alabama (5), South Carolina (2), and one each from North Carolina and Texas.

The two Palmetto State players on Mercer’s squad are redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Destin Guillen (who attended Berea High School), and freshman quarterback Brett Burnett (a product of Airport High School). However, Mercer has no players from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School on its roster, an inexplicable oversight for a university actively searching for high-quality gridiron talent.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

After the first four to five games of the 2017 season, it appears that the SoCon could be a complete free-for-all. Every team except VMI is capable of winning (and losing) in conference play on any given week.

While that is good from a competitiveness standpoint, I’m afraid it might also mean that a team with a 5-3 conference record will struggle to gain a playoff spot, because it may be hard to for the league squads to separate themselves into easily defined groups (playoff-caliber teams, non-playoff teams, etc.). The league’s non-conference results haven’t been terrible, but they haven’t been that good, either.

For The Citadel, that potential problem is even more acute, because the Bulldogs finish the regular season at Clemson.

That is why each SoCon contest is so important. It is quite possible that to participate in the postseason for a third consecutive season, the Bulldogs can only afford one more league setback.

It is thus even more critical to “hold serve” at home. The one advantage The Citadel has is that it has not played a conference game at Johnson Hagood Stadium thus far.

The Bulldogs have to cash in on their four SoCon home games. Those matchups will be against Mercer, Wofford, Western Carolina, and VMI.

It won’t be easy, and that starts with this week’s matchup. Mercer has been very close to beating the Bulldogs for three straight years.

There is no question that the team from Macon desperately wants to end the close-but-no-cigar run it has had against The Citadel. Those losses have undoubtedly been very hard to take, particularly for head coach Bobby Lamb.

There is also no doubt, however, that the Bulldogs want to put their poor afternoon at Samford in the rear view mirror. The surest way to do that is to win in front of a supportive Parents’ Day crowd.

The stakes, as always, are high. The drive for the playoffs begins anew on Saturday.

During the 2017 season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

A quick glance at the 2017 SoCon non-conference football slate

– Inside the Numbers: The Citadel’s run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and various per-play statistics, along with the highly anticipated coin-toss data

– A look at “advanced statistics” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

For the fifth consecutive season, it’s time to take a look at this all-important topic. In this post, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs, along with other items of interest (in terms of schedule “flow”).

I’ll also throw in a few odds and ends just for fun.

We start with the opener.

September 2: The Citadel opens at home against Newberry. The last time the Bulldogs played the Wolves (in 1997), they weren’t actually the Wolves — they were the Indians.

The only previous time these two programs met on September 2 was in 1995. The Bulldogs escaped that day with a 21-20 victory.

Newberry finished last season with a 35-33 loss at home to Tuskegee in the 2016 D-2 playoffs. That came after 10 consecutive wins for the Wolves, which finished with a 10-2 record.

After playing The Citadel, Newberry goes on the road again the following week, facing fellow D-2 squad Virginia Union.

September 9: Presbyterian comes to Charleston to play The Citadel. When the Blue Hose last squared off against the Bulldogs, in 2010, The Citadel prevailed 26-14.

The only other game in the series played on September 9 came in 1978, a 28-17 victory for the Bulldogs. It was Art Baker’s first game as head coach of The Citadel; 17,840 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium watched PC take a 17-14 lead into the fourth quarter before the Bulldogs scored two unanswered touchdowns to make Baker a winner in his debut.

Presbyterian opens this season on Thursday night at Wake Forest, thus getting two extra days of preparation for the game against the Bulldogs. After the Blue Hose’s matchup with The Citadel, PC plays its first home game of the season, versus Campbell.

September 16: The Citadel’s first road contest of the 2017 season comes at East Tennessee State. It will be the second game played at ETSU’s new football stadium. The Buccaneers’ first game at their new home will be against Limestone in the season opener.

After playing the Saints, East Tennessee State goes on the road to play defending national champion James Madison. Following the Buccaneers’ game versus The Citadel, ETSU stays in Johnson City to play Mercer.

September 23: The Citadel is off this week. It’s a good time to take a vacation. At least, I think it’s a good time to take a vacation…

September 30: The Bulldogs go on the road to tangle with another bunch of Bulldogs, the group from Samford. In the series between the two schools, this will be the first game played in September.

SU itself must make travel plans in the two weeks prior to its game against The Citadel, as Samford faces Georgia in Athens and then Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Samford then packs its bags for the longest trip in conference action, Birmingham to Lexington, Virginia (and a 1:30 pm ET kickoff). Two weeks, two games against military colleges.

October 7: It will be Parents’ Day at The Citadel, and the Bulldogs are hosting Mercer. Samford and Mercer will trade opponents, as the Bears play VMI in Macon the week before travelling to Charleston.

Incidentally, Mercer had the same scheduling setup with the two military schools in 2015. That year, the Bears lost 28-21 at home to VMI, and then fell 21-19 to The Citadel in Charleston.

October 14: The Bulldogs play Wofford at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Terriers open the season with two SoCon games (against Furman and Mercer), and then have a bye week before non-conference matchups against Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian.

Wofford hosts Western Carolina the week before playing The Citadel. The following week, the Terriers face Samford in Spartanburg, which is also Wofford’s Homecoming game.

October 21: The Citadel travels to Chattanooga for a matchup with the Mocs. It will be Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium.

The game against the Bulldogs is the second of a very difficult five-game stretch for UTC. After a home game against Furman, Chattanooga is at Mercer the week before playing The Citadel; the following two weeks are road games against Samford and Wofford.

Chattanooga gets a late-season bye week after playing the Terriers, which may come too late for UTC (though it conceivably could be well-timed, if the Mocs get through that four-game gauntlet unscathed).

October 28: This year, Homecoming comes in October for The Citadel, in a game against VMI. It is the earliest in the season the two teams have battled for the coveted Silver Shako since 1991, when the Bulldogs beat the Keydets 17-14 in the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia. That contest was played on October 26.

VMI does not have a bye week in 2017. The Keydets play 11 consecutive games and end their season on November 11, at home versus Wofford. The week before that (and the week after playing The Citadel), the Keydets play East Tennessee State in Johnson City.

Prior to its game against the Bulldogs, VMI hosts Western Carolina.

November 4: Speaking of the Catamounts, WCU is The Citadel’s final regular-season home game opponent of the season. Western Carolina will play back-to-back games against Palmetto State schools, hosting Furman in Cullowhee the week before its game versus the Bulldogs.

Western Carolina is back in the mountains on November 11, playing Mercer.

November 11: The Citadel travels to Greenville to play Furman. The two programs have played on this date once before, in 1972, a matchup also hosted by the Paladins. The Citadel won that game 19-13, behind two touchdown runs by Harry Lynch and 102 yards rushing from Bob Carson (which included a 58-yard TD run). It was the final game at Sirrine Stadium for longtime Furman head coach Bob King.

The Paladins have a bye week before playing The Citadel this season, the only team on the Bulldogs’ schedule to have that benefit (not counting Presbyterian’s two-day head start after playing Wake Forest). Furman’s last regular-season game is at Samford.

November 18: The Bulldogs’ eleventh game of the campaign is against Clemson, the third straight year The Citadel will end the regular season against a Power-5 conference opponent. It will be Military Appreciation Day in Clemson (as was the case when the two programs met in 2013).

The Tigers face Florida State in Death Valley the week before hosting The Citadel. Clemson then travels to Columbia for its traditional season finale versus South Carolina.

A quick note on “option preview” situations in 2017:

  • Furman, Mercer, and Western Carolina all play Wofford before facing The Citadel, while the other league teams play the Terriers before taking on the Bulldogs.
  • Samford opens its season on Thursday night against another triple option team, Kennesaw State.
  • Clemson plays Georgia Tech on October 28 (and has a bye week before that game to prepare for Paul Johnson’s offense).

Just a few more weeks to go…

A quick glance at the 2017 SoCon non-conference football slate

Some other links related to the upcoming season for The Citadel:

Inside the Numbers: The Citadel’s run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and various per-play statistics, along with the highly anticipated coin-toss data

A look at “advanced statistics” from the Bulldogs’ 2016 league campaign

Preseason rankings and ratings

The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

This year, the SoCon cohort will have its usual share of games against major conference teams, along with several intriguing matchups with FCS squads in other leagues. While there are four games against Division II schools, at least two of those D-2 teams (possibly three) are of playoff caliber in that division.

That said, I think contests against non-D1 teams should be avoided by SoCon schools (the same is true for basketball). I realize that putting together a schedule can be a challenge, but from a playoff perspective, it’s important for league teams to have as many opportunities as possible to accumulate victories against D-1 opposition. From that standpoint, playing an FBS team and a D-2 squad in the same season is less than ideal.

Every SoCon team will play three non-league games, with the exception of Western Carolina. The Catamounts have four matchups against out-of-conference opponents, because one of those four games is at Hawai’i. Thus, with the “Hawai’i Exemption” in effect, WCU is playing a 12-game regular-season schedule.

East Tennessee State is the only conference team that will not face at least one FBS opponent. The Buccaneers are only in their third year since re-starting their football program. However, ETSU will play at Tennessee in 2018.

Of the eight schools that are playing FBS squads, seven of them have matchups with teams from Power-5 conferences. The only one that doesn’t is VMI, which has Air Force as its FBS opponent.

Which SoCon outfit has the toughest non-conference schedule? That’s an easy question to answer — it’s Mercer. The Bears tangle with two SEC teams this season.

Around the league:

– Chattanooga:

The Mocs open the season in “Week 0” with a nominally neutral-site matchup in Alabama against OVC kingpin Jacksonville State, with the contest billed as the “Montgomery Kickoff Classic” and televised on ESPN. Chattanooga has lost four games to JSU since 2012; all were close, with two going to OT (including a playoff meeting in 2015).

UTC plays all three of its non-league opponents in the first four weeks of the season. After the Jacksonville State game, Chattanooga has a week off before facing LSU in Baton Rouge. The Mocs then host UT Martin, which won 7 games last season and has finished in the top 3 of the OVC in each of the last five seasons.

– Mercer:

Uh, yikes. After a Thursday night home opener versus Jacksonville that shouldn’t be too treacherous, the Bears will travel to Auburn (September 16) and Alabama (November 18). Good luck with that.

An argument could be made that Mercer has the toughest non-conference schedule in all of FCS. There are arguably three other contenders for that “honor”: Northern Colorado (which plays at Florida and at Colorado), Delaware State (at West Virginia, at Florida State) and Alabama A&M (the only FCS squad to play three FBS opponents this year).

My vote goes to Delaware State, in part because the Hornets were winless last season. Kenny Carter has a tough row to hoe in Dover.

– Samford:

This may be one of the trickier out-of-conference slates in the SoCon, at least in terms of being more difficult than it appears on the surface.

Samford opens the season at home on Thursday night versus Kennesaw State, which you may recall beat Furman last year (though KSU also lost to ETSU in 2016). I think Kennesaw State may be a “sleeper” team this season in the Big South. At least one preseason publication ranked the Owls in its Top 25.

The Birmingham Bulldogs keep the home-on-Thursday thing going in Week 2, playing a weeknight contest against Division II West Alabama. The Tigers are a solid D-2 program, having averaged almost 7 1/2 wins per season since 2009.

Like UTC, Samford wraps up its non-conference campaign early, as SU goes between the hedges to play Georgia on September 16.

– Western Carolina:

As mentioned above, the Catamounts are playing four non-league teams this year as part of a 12-game slate. The game at Hawai’i is the season opener.

WCU’s other three out-of-conference opponents are all from the state of North Carolina. Western Carolina hosts Davidson on September 9, and then travels to Boiling Springs (the N.C. version) to face Gardner-Webb the following week.

The Catamounts conclude regular-season play with a game in Chapel Hill against North Carolina on November 18, the first football game ever between those two programs.

– VMI:

The Keydets’ meeting with Air Force (September 2) is the first of its kind on the gridiron between those two military schools.

VMI returns to the post the following week to play D-2 Catawba, which went 5-6 last year but was 9-3 the season before. That 2015 campaign for Catawba included a two-touchdown victory over Davidson, the last time the Indians faced a D-1 opponent.

On September 16, VMI travels to Moon Township, PA, to play Robert Morris. The Keydets are one of two Southern Conference teams to have scheduled the Colonials this season; those are the only two NEC-SoCon meetings this year.

RMU was 2-9 last season, with one of the losses coming to another Virginia squad, Liberty (41-7). VMI and Robert Morris last played in 2013, a 37-31 2OT victory for the Colonials in Lexington.

– The Citadel:

The Bulldogs open with two home games against familiar non-conference opposition. The Citadel has played Newberry and Presbyterian a combined 102 times in its football history.

Newberry was 10-2 last year, and made the D-2 playoffs for a second consecutive season. The Wolves have played two D-1 schools in the last three years (Jacksonville and Charleston Southern), losing the two games by a total of nine points.

Presbyterian was 2-9 last season, with just one win in Big South action (versus Monmouth). PC opens at Wake Forest on Thursday night before travelling to Charleston to face the Bulldogs for the first time since 2010.

The Citadel ends the regular season with a game at Clemson, which has been a fairly decent FBS program over the past couple of years.

– East Tennessee State:

ETSU opens at home against Limestone, a Division II school entering its fourth year of playing varsity football. The Saints were 5-6 last season. Limestone’s only D-1 opponent to date was a home game against Jacksonville in 2014; the Dolphins won 61-10.

The Bucs then play the defending national champion, James Madison. That game will take place in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

East Tennessee State closes out its non-conference action with a home game versus Robert Morris, three weeks after the Colonials host VMI.

– Furman:

The Paladins open the season with a conference game, travelling to Spartanburg to face Wofford. Furman’s first non-league opponent is actually a former conference foe, as Elon will be in Greenville on September 9.

The following Saturday, Furman will play North Carolina State in Raleigh. FU leads the all-time series between the two programs, 8-4-4. The two teams last met in 1985, a 42-20 Furman victory. In related news, N.C. State hired then-Paladins head coach Dick Sheridan after that season.

Furman’s next game will be in Hamilton, New York, as Colgate will host the Paladins. It’s a relatively unusual Patriot League-Southern Conference gridiron battle. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more meetings between teams in those leagues.

– Wofford:

As noted above, Wofford will open at home against Furman in a SoCon matchup. In fact, Wofford’s first two games are in conference play (the second is at Mercer), and then the Terriers have a bye week.

Wofford’s initial non-conference game of the season isn’t until September 23, when it faces Gardner-Webb in Spartanburg. The following Saturday, the Terriers make the short trip down the road to Clinton to play Presbyterian.

On November 18, Wofford will play its last regular-season game of the year at South Carolina, the third consecutive year the Gamecocks have hosted a SoCon team the week before South Carolina plays Clemson. Last year, the Gamecocks beat Western Carolina 44-31; in 2015, The Citadel defeated South Carolina 23-22.

As a whole, the SoCon’s non-league schedule compares favorably to other conferences in FCS.

Only the Big Sky has more matchups against Power-5 conference teams than the SoCon (11* to 8), and the western league has 4 more teams in its conference for football. All 13 of those Big Sky teams will play at least one FBS team this year, however, with three of the schools facing two FBS opponents.

*I’m counting BYU as a “Power-5” program.

Several of the Big Sky teams expected to contend for the league title are playing opponents from the Pac-12, including Weber State (California), North Dakota (Utah), and Northern Arizona (Arizona). I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those teams pulls an upset (Weber State having the best shot, in my opinion).

Another Big Sky power, Eastern Washington, plays at Texas Tech in its season opener. I hope there is enough electrical power available in Lubbock to run the scoreboard for that one.

EWU also has non-conference games against North Dakota State and Fordham, the latter on the road in the Bronx.

While teams in the CAA have a combined total of 12 meetings with FBS squads this season, only three of those are against Power-5 teams (Towson-Maryland, Delaware-Virginia Tech, and William & Mary-Virginia).

James Madison has to like its chances against an East Carolina team that was defensively challenged last season. In fact, one offshore site currently lists the Dukes as a 4 1/2 point favorite.

Maine is playing two FBS teams. One of the games, versus Massachusetts, will be at Fenway Park (box seats above the 30-yard line can be yours for just $99 each).

The MEAC has six games against Power-5 squads (including the aforementioned two for Delaware State), the OVC has five (one of which is Jacksonville State-Georgia Tech), the MVFC has four, the Big South has two (not counting Liberty’s game at Baylor), and the Southland and SWAC also have two. The NEC has one (Central Connecticut State-Syracuse).

While it doesn’t feature any games against Power-5 opposition, the Patriot League does have three games against FBS teams (Colgate-Buffalo, Fordham-Army, Holy Cross-Connecticut).

Incidentally, I’m a fan of the non-conference schedule Colgate put together this year — games against Furman and Cal Poly (the latter on the road), and then stepping outside the division to play a MAC school. Well done, Raiders. Rob Stone must be very proud.

None of the Ivies will play an FBS team this season, and the same is true for the teams in the Pioneer League.

Of the teams ranked in the Street & Smith’s preseason Top 25, only eight are not playing at least one FBS opponent this season. Those eight squads include three MVFC teams (North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Illinois State); two Southland outfits (preseason #1 Sam Houston State and McNeese State); CAA power Richmond; Patriot League favorite Lehigh; and defending Pioneer League champ San Diego.

It should be pointed out that at least in the case of North Dakota State, the absence of an FBS team on the schedule certainly isn’t about an unwillingness to play teams in the bowl subdivision; rather, it more likely reflects the fact that fewer and fewer FBS programs are interested in playing NDSU.

In addition, two of the eight teams play each other this season. Sam Houston State hosts Richmond on Sunday, August 27, an attractive matchup that will be televised on ESPNU. It will also be the sideline debut for new Richmond coach (and former UTC boss) Russ Huesman.

On September 9, South Dakota State travels to Montana State in an MVFC-Big Sky intersectional affair. Another non-conference matchup featuring teams from those two conferences is Illinois State-Northern Arizona, which kicks off in Flagstaff on October 7.

Lehigh hosts Villanova in what could be the Mountain Hawks’ toughest non-conference test. It is also the season opener for both teams. Lehigh also has a potentially difficult game against Penn; like the Villanova contest, it will be played at Goodman Stadium.

San Diego’s non-conference slate includes a long road trip to Princeton. The Tigers are expected to compete with Penn and Harvard for the Ivy League title this season, after sharing the crown with the Quakers last year.

We are now less than two months away from the start of football season for almost every FBS and FCS team (Ivy League excepted). Can’t wait…

2017 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

Previous posts on The Citadel’s upcoming football campaign:

Inside the numbers: run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and more (including coin-toss data!)

A look at “advanced stats” from The Citadel’s most recent SoCon season

The Citadel’s fans aren’t afraid to travel

I think it’s time to take a gander at some preseason rankings and ratings. After all, what’s the purpose of even having a month of July otherwise?

First up, some rankings…

This year, the Street & Smith’s college football annual returns, after several years of being usurped by the byline of The Sporting News (which had been acquired by the same company that owned Street & Smith’s about a decade ago). Now, the magazine is going by the Street & Smith’s name again, a return to a tradition that began in 1940.

On a personal level, I was pleased to see this. For years, it was a somewhat of a tradition for my father to buy the Street & Smith’s annual in July (usually after we made a trip to the barber shop). I would voraciously read the magazine cover-to-cover, even the section on the “Little Three” (yes, back in the day S&S would routinely have a page dedicated to the preseason prospects for Amherst, Williams, and Wesleyan).

Anyway, the SoCon preview for this year’s annual was written by S&S assistant editor Will Long (who also wrote the FCS preview article in the magazine). Long is a resident of Charlotte who graduated from Clemson, so presumably he has some familiarity with the conference.

Long wrote that the SoCon “is as wide-open as it has been in recent memory.” His preseason predictions:

1 – Wofford (#9 in the S&S preseason Top 25 of the FCS)
2 – The Citadel (#12)
3 – Chattanooga (#18)
4 – Samford (#20)
5 – Mercer
6 – Furman
7 – Western Carolina
8 – East Tennessee State
9 – VMI

Sam Houston State is the magazine’s #1 team in its preseason top 25, followed by North Dakota State and defending FCS champion James Madison. Big South favorite Charleston Southern is #13, while MEAC standard-bearer North Carolina Central is #22.

The preseason FCS All-America team for Street & Smith’s includes Wofford defensive lineman Tyler Vaughn, South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, and Western Carolina running back Detrez Newsome (on the team as a return specialist).

Other preseason magazines tend not to have specific previews for FCS conferences, but stick to national previews and Top 25 rankings.

Athlon ranks The Citadel #25 in its preseason list. North Dakota State is #1 in its rankings, ahead of James Madison, South Dakota State, and Sam Houston State. Wofford is ranked #10, Chattanooga #15, and Samford #18.

Wofford is projected to win the SoCon, with Chattanooga and Samford receiving at-large bids to the FCS playoffs. Based on the rankings, The Citadel is one of the “last two teams out” for making the playoffs, according to Athlon. 

Incidentally, the magazine’s online site posted an article that mentions Wofford as a “dark horse” candidate to win the national title.

The annual’s preseason FCS All-America team includes Charleston Southern defensive lineman Anthony Ellis, South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard, Western Carolina punter Ian Berryman, and two North Carolina A&T players — offensive lineman Brandon Parker and punt returner Khris Gardin.

Lindy’s ranks James Madison #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5: North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Jacksonville State, and Eastern Washington. Wofford is ranked #10, Chattanooga #11, The Citadel #18, and Samford #22. Other teams of note include Richmond (#9 here, and in the top 10 of all three rankings for the magazines mentioned in this post), Charleston Southern (#12), and Kennesaw State (#25).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Charleston Southern defensive lineman Anthony Ellis and teammate Solomon Brown (a linebacker), South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard (who may have the most preseason accolades of any FCS player in the Palmetto State), and Western Carolina’s Ian Berryman at punter.

Lindy’s also has a preseason second team, and that features Chattanooga offensive lineman Jacob Revis, Western Carolina return specialist Detrez Newsome, and The Citadel’s Kailik Williams (listed as a safety).

For a couple of years now, I’ve been incorporating the Massey Ratings into my weekly game previews. For those not entirely familiar with this ratings system, a quick explanation:

Kenneth Massey (complete with bow tie) is an assistant professor of Mathematics at Carson-Newman University. His college football ratings system was used (with several others) for fifteen years by the BCS, the predecessor to the CFP. Massey has ratings for a wide variety of sports, but the lion’s share of the attention surrounding his work has been focused on college football.

Massey’s bio on the school website notes that he is “likely the most famous of C-N’s faculty” as a result of his ratings systems.

From the ratings website:

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.

That lack of data won’t stop us from discussing the rankings, though!

Massey rates every single college football team — not just FBS and FCS squads, but D-2, D-3, NAIA, junior colleges, even Canadian and Mexican schools. This season, there are preseason ratings for 959 colleges and universities (Zorros ITQ, the football team at the Technological Institute at Querétaro, is the preseason #959 squad).

This year, The Citadel is #130 overall in the preseason ratings. As a comparison, the Bulldogs were the preseason #113 team last year and were #174 in the 2015 preseason.

The teams on The Citadel’s 2017 schedule are rated as follows (with the chances of a Bulldogs victory in parenthesis):

  • Newberry – #341 (98%)
  • Presbyterian – #296 (96%)
  • East Tennessee State – #279 (92%)
  • Samford – #143 (50%)
  • Mercer – #178 (74%)
  • Wofford – #110 (43%)
  • Chattanooga – #117 (36%)
  • VMI – #228 (87%)
  • Western Carolina – #208 (83%)
  • Furman – #169 (62%)
  • Clemson – #2 (0%)

The Citadel is favored in 7 of 11 matchups, with one tossup.

Don’t worry about that 0% number for the Clemson game, though. When I began simulating the game, on just my fourth try The Citadel beat the Tigers 31-20. Never bet against the Bulldogs.

There are matchup simulations for each game. Feel free to waste a few minutes of your time toying around with them.

Based on the ratings, here are the projected overall season records for The Citadel’s Division I opponents (there aren’t simulations for teams below D-1, so Newberry is not listed):

  • Presbyterian (2-9)
  • East Tennessee State (2-9)
  • Samford (7-3, not including a tossup game versus The Citadel)
  • Mercer (4-7)
  • Wofford (10-1)
  • Chattanooga (8-3)
  • VMI (3-7, not including a tossup game against Western Carolina)
  • Western Carolina (2-9, not including a tossup game versus VMI)
  • Furman (5-6)
  • Clemson (12-0)

Note: Western Carolina plays 12 regular-season games this season, because it opens at Hawai’i.

Let’s look at the FCS-only ratings for a list of select schools:

  • North Dakota State – 1
  • James Madison – 2
  • Eastern Washington – 3
  • Youngstown State – 4
  • South Dakota State – 5
  • Northern Iowa – 6
  • Jacksonville State – 7
  • Wofford – 8
  • Chattanooga – 9
  • Sam Houston State – 10
  • Charleston Southern – 11
  • Villanova – 12
  • Illinois State – 13
  • Central Arkansas – 14
  • Richmond – 15
  • The Citadel – 16
  • South Dakota – 17
  • Western Illinois – 18
  • New Hampshire – 19
  • Samford – 20
  • Lehigh – 26
  • Cal Poly – 28
  • Princeton – 30
  • Furman – 32
  • William and Mary – 33
  • San Diego – 34
  • Liberty – 35 (ranked here despite it being a “transition” year for LU)
  • Colgate – 36
  • Mercer – 38
  • Stony Brook – 41
  • Delaware – 45
  • Fordham – 47
  • Kennesaw State – 50
  • Gardner-Webb – 52
  • Towson – 54
  • Grambling State – 58
  • Western Carolina – 59
  • Harvard – 61
  • VMI – 64
  • Dartmouth – 67
  • North Carolina A&T – 70
  • Monmouth – 71
  • Yale – 77
  • Holy Cross – 78
  • Elon – 79
  • North Carolina Central – 80
  • East Tennessee State – 90
  • Presbyterian – 94
  • South Carolina State – 96
  • Campbell – 110
  • Delaware State – 121
  • Davidson – 122
  • Mississippi Valley State – 123
  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff – 124 (of 124 FCS teams)

North Dakota State is the preseason #1-rated FCS school, as it was last year. NDSU checks in at #58 overall. Other schools on the “overall list” that may be of interest:

  • Alabama – 1
  • Clemson – 2
  • LSU – 3
  • Florida State – 4
  • Oklahoma – 5
  • Michigan – 6
  • Washington – 7
  • Ohio State – 8
  • Miami (FL) – 9
  • Southern California – 10
  • Florida – 14
  • Virginia Tech – 15
  • North Carolina – 16
  • Louisville – 19
  • Tennessee – 20
  • North Carolina State – 23
  • Georgia Tech – 24
  • Notre Dame – 30
  • Georgia – 34
  • Appalachian State – 40
  • Northwest Missouri State – 46 (highest-rated Division II team, and I can’t believe it either)
  • Texas – 49
  • Wake Forest – 53
  • Vanderbilt – 59
  • Duke – 61
  • James Madison – 62
  • UCLA – 64
  • Kentucky – 65
  • Navy – 66
  • Air Force – 73
  • South Carolina – 74
  • Maryland – 78
  • Missouri – 81
  • Virginia – 83
  • New Mexico – 92
  • Georgia Southern – 93
  • Army – 99
  • Kansas – 104
  • Wofford – 110
  • Rutgers – 113
  • East Carolina – 115
  • Chattanooga – 117
  • Charleston Southern – 120
  • Coastal Carolina – 125
  • Massachusetts – 131
  • Ferris State – 136 (rated second-highest in Division II)
  • Marshall – 148
  • Charlotte – 152
  • Laval – 156 (highest-rated Canadian team)
  • Buffalo – 164
  • Texas State – 190
  • Butte College – 197 (highest-rated junior college team)
  • Trinity (CT) – 270 (highest-rated Division III team)
  • St. Francis (IN) – 280 (highest-rated NAIA team)
  • UAB – 285
  • North Greenville – 305
  • UDLA Puebla – 465 (highest-rated Mexican team)

Less than two months until actual official pigskin activity…

A brief look at “advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2016 SoCon campaign

This is a post primarily about the “Five Factors” of college football.

What are the Five Factors? I’ll let Bill Connelly of SB Nation explain:

…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.

Those percentages were based on 2013 FBS data. It’s now 2017, but they probably still apply. Connelly has made adjustments to some of the formulas that go into the five factors, but the basic principles remain the same.

What I wanted to do was see how The Citadel’s 2016 SoCon season looked when the Five Factors were taken into account. I’ve already gone over a bunch of stats in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc., but this is something I haven’t tried to calculate before.

It wasn’t easy, either. FCS statistics for the categories mentioned above basically don’t exist online (at least, I certainly didn’t find any of consequence). The fact the Southern Conference does not have league-only online stats didn’t help.

However, I put together a small package for The Citadel’s season. It is far from perfect, and may not mean much to some people (perhaps for good reason).

There are still almost two months before the opening kickoff, though. So at the very least, it’s better than not talking about football at all.

I’m going to go over the Five Factors now. Afterwards, there are three other statistical categories of note I wanted to briefly discuss. One of them in particular struck me as worth mentioning.

First things first: a spreadsheet! The spreadsheet includes individual game statistics for all of these categories.

Again, a reminder — these stats are for SoCon games only. Also, overtime statistics are not included.

Also, I’m going to use FBS numbers for comparison purposes throughout this post, mainly because there are no FCS equivalent stats online. I’m guessing that if FCS stats were available, they would be similar to those from FBS. At least, I hope so…

Field position

I think field position is possibly the easiest of the Five Factors to understand. The one thing to think about with field position is this: you measure an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Also, special teams play is obviously important. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — all of that matters.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2016 was the 29.7 yard line.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 32 26.5 5.5
(Road) 32.25 29 3.25
Total 32.125 27.75 4.375

The Citadel won the field position battle in five of eight games. One of the things that helped the Bulldogs the most in this aspect of the game was the “three-and-out” differential.

Simply put, The Citadel’s defense did a good job of forcing the other team off the field in three plays or less (the “less” occurring when the Bulldogs’ D created a turnover). The offense tended to have longer drives than its opponents, and that usually tilted the playing field in The Citadel’s favor.

The Citadel’s offense had a “3-and-out+” rate of 27.5%, while Bulldogs opponents had a rate of 35.2%. That 7.7% differential was substantial. It would have ranked in the top 35 in FBS, for example.

The top 3 defenses in FBS in 3-and-out+ differential in 2016 were Temple, Clemson, and Ohio State; each had a differential of more than 17%. Those three teams had a combined record of 35-7, with two league titles and two CFP bids (including the playoff winner).

The Bulldogs also benefited from good special teams, particularly kickoffs.

The net punting does not show up quite as well; I find that frankly puzzling, because The Citadel had a generally solid performance from its punt team all season (with the exception of a blocked punt against Wofford).

My guess is that because there wasn’t as much field to work with a lot of the time (as the Bulldogs often had a territorial advantage in individual contests), that there were only so many net punting yards to be had.

Also of note, The Citadel had significantly better net punt/kickoff numbers at home.

Efficiency

With efficiency, we’re talking about a statistic called “Success Rate”. Here is its definition, 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 national average for Success Rate in 2016 was 40.9%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 48.20% 43.60% 4.60%
(Road) 42.10% 36.20% 5.90%
Total 45.40% 39.90% 5.50%

As was the case with field position, The Citadel won the efficiency “contest” five out of eight times in 2016 league play.

Incidentally, for the Western Carolina and ETSU games, only first-half statistics were calculated for Efficiency and the next category (Explosiveness). That is because both games were essentially over at halftime.

Bill Connelly, in his book Study Hall, expounds on this line of reasoning:

…The goal of the game for one team has changed from winning to making the game end as quickly as possible…the game is, in effect, over, and what happens after ‘garbage time’ begins is no longer truly evaluative of the teams at hand.

Defining when a game is no longer competitive can be tricky. After all, we’ve all seen big comebacks (The Citadel’s 2011 victory over Chattanooga comes to mind). Still, I think it is fair to consider the WCU and ETSU contests as no longer being in doubt after the first half.

The most efficient opposing offense against The Citadel in 2016 was Samford, which ran a successful play 50% of the time against the Bulldogs’ D. Then there was the game at Wofford, where The Citadel’s offense was only successful on 25% of its plays, by far the lowest percentage for the team all season in league action.

Explosiveness

How is this category defined? Well, with something called “IsoPPP”, and believe me, I had no idea what that was myself until I started researching this topic.

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?

This definition doesn’t really benefit The Citadel, because a lot of the Bulldogs’ successful plays last season were of the “move the chains” variety — five yards on first down, two yards on 3rd-and-1, etc. Every now and then, someone would bust a big play, but that was counterbalanced by all the “smaller” good plays The Citadel had.

This is reflected in the numbers, as the Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league games. Even ETSU had slightly higher “explosiveness” despite being out of the game at halftime.

That doesn’t mean this statistic doesn’t matter as far as The Citadel is concerned. Of course it does.

The Bulldogs need more big plays on offense. They can win without them (as they did in the Chattanooga game, when The Citadel’s longest play from scrimmage was Dominique Allen’s 15-yard gain on the offense’s first play of the game), but it’s much easier to move down the field in large chunks.

The FBS national average for Explosiveness was 1.27.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 0.924 1.109 -0.185
(Road) 1.068 1.132 -0.064
Total 0.985 1.119 -0.134

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. It’s more or less an elongated version of the “Red Zone” concept.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2016 was 4.47.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 4.5 4.1 0.4
(Road) 4.5 4.7 -0.2
Total 4.525 4.407 0.118

The Citadel had the edge in this category in six of its eight SoCon games. Of course, the Bulldogs also had many more opportunities to add to their “finishing drives” totals than their opponents; The Citadel had 40 such drives in league play, while their opposition had 27.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 3 5 2
(Road) 4 9 5
Total 7 14 7

A net margin of 1.0 turnover per league contest is a good way to win a lot of games. In FBS, Washington and Western Michigan tied for the national best in turnover margin per game, at 1.29. Only six FBS squads had a net of 1.0 turnover per game or higher.

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

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.82 6.9 1.08
(Road) 3.58 6.7 3.12
Total 9.4 13.6 4.2

The difference is that The Citadel had a bit more “turnover luck” than its opponents. The expected turnovers stat is based on A) the idea that recovering fumbles is a 50-50 proposition, and B) that a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. In other words, if a defensive back breaks up four passes, the fifth one he get his hands on probably should be a pick.

In case anyone is interested, I calculated the “passes defensed” interception rate at 22%.

Just because the Bulldogs may have had a bit of good fortune in the turnover department last season, that doesn’t mean a regression is imminent. They start on the same playing field as everyone else this year.

Now, let’s see how The Citadel did in the Five Factors on a game-by-game basis in league play:

  • at Mercer: The Citadel won 3 of the 5
  • Furman: The Citadel won 4 of the 5
  • at Western Carolina: The Citadel won all 5
  • Chattanooga: The Citadel won 2, UTC won 2, and there were no turnovers
  • at Wofford: The Citadel won 2 out of 5
  • ETSU: The Citadel won 3 out of 5, but 4 of 5 in the decisive first half
  • Samford: The Citadel won 0, Samford won 4, and there were no turnovers
  • at VMI: The Citadel won 2, VMI won 2, and each team had one turnover

As for the “what happened?” results, a few explanations:

– Chattanooga: a close game, obviously, that The Citadel won at home

– Wofford: went to OT; field position doesn’t account for the “Pitch 6”

– at VMI: the Keydets’ turnover resulted in a defensive TD; also, The Citadel crushed the “Efficiency” category

– Samford: went to OT, and, uh…

Two of the four categories that favored Samford were very close (Efficiency and Explosiveness). I think one takeaway from that game might be that when one team runs a lot more plays from scrimmage (86-64), it could have a “hidden” edge in efficiency no matter the numbers.

As it was, Samford was up 10 points with six minutes to play in the game. Then the tide suddenly turned on a Cam Jackson run on third-and-long. One TD later, one three-and-out later, one quick field goal drive later, and the game was headed to OT.

We move on from the “Five Factors” (well, at least I’m moving on) and wrap this up with three other statistical categories that I think could be of some interest.

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 6.69 6.06 0.63
(Road) 5.68 5.11 0.57
Total 6.21 5.59 0.62

To be honest, I was inspired to look these numbers up while perusing Athlon’s 2016 college football annual, which included statistical tidbits for all 128 FBS teams. Some highlights:

  • Western Kentucky’s offense led FBS in average yards gained on first down, with 8.9. That was well ahead of second-place South Florida (8.1).
  • The worst FBS squad in this category was Fresno State (just 4.4 yards gained on first down on average).
  • Minnesota’s defense topped FBS in allowing first down yardage, with its opponents averaging 4.3 yards.
  • I don’t know which team was worst in FBS, but FIU’s defense was 126th out of 128, allowing 7.5 yards per opponent first down. Butch Davis needs to bring in some players.

I also went back and took a look at The Citadel’s 2015 conference numbers in this area, for comparison.

  • The Citadel’s defense allowed an average of 6.09 yards on first down in 2015, including 5.47 yards per rush on first down and 6.80 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s defense allowed an average of 5.59 yards on first down in 2016, including 3.29 yards per rush on first down and 7.98 yards per pass attempt on first down

The Bulldogs’ D just shut down the running game on first down in 2016. It allowed a bit more per pass attempt, but not enough to prevent an improvement from the year before of a full half-yard.

Okay, we’re leading up to something that is not on the spreadsheet, but which is important.

  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.49 yards on first down in 2015, including 5.94 yards per rush on first down and 11.04 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016, including 6.14 yards per rush on first down and 6.65 yards per pass attempt on first down

This is something that needs to change in 2017. The Citadel doesn’t throw often, but when it does, it has to make it count. That is especially true on a “standard down”, i.e. a down in which the opponent would not normally expect the Bulldogs to pass. First-and-10 is definitely one of those downs.

Averaging 11 yards per attempt is outstanding, but it is also something that you would almost expect to see in a well-oiled triple option offense. In a typical game, the Bulldogs may throw the ball on first down 2 or 3 times. With the element of surprise, at least one of those passes needs to go for long yardage.

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

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.54 6.32 0.78
(Road) 5.85 10.33 4.48
Total 5.68 8.17 2.49

Air Force’s offense led FBS in yards to go on 3rd down, needing on average 5.5 yards to move the chains. I don’t have the complete list (or even a partial list), but I would suspect that 5.68 would put a team somewhere in the top 15 range, maybe the top 10.

Massachusetts had the worst offensive numbers in this category, needing on average 8.4 yards to make a first down.

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) 64 17 40.74%
(Road) 57 22 36.71%
Total 121 39 38.75%

I think it is safe to say that not many teams in D-1 ran the ball 76% of the time on “passing downs”. That success rate may not look good, but it combines fairly well with the Bulldogs’ effort on defense.

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 17 60 35.06%
(Road) 42 45 25.29%
Total 59 105 29.88%

The Citadel’s defense was very good at stopping a receiver from picking up the first down after the catch, assuming he was still short of the sticks when he received the ball. This explains why opponents only had a success rate of 45% even on completed passes.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on any of what I just posted. This is the first time I’ve tried to perform some of these calculations; it’s possible I may not be 100% correct on everything.

However, if I thought it was all a bunch of garbage, I wouldn’t have posted it. I do have some standards, mediocre as they may be.

Any comments, suggestions, or corrections are appreciated. Also, if someone could hit the fast-forward button to football season, that would be nice.

Inside the numbers: The Citadel’s 2016 run/pass tendencies, 4th-down decision-making, and more (including coin toss data!)

In the past, I have written about tendencies in playcalling by the then-coach of the Bulldogs, Mike Houston (and his offensive coordinator, Brent Thompson, who took over as The Citadel’s head coach last season). I compared statistics over a rolling three-year period. Last year, for example, included numbers from Kevin Higgins’ last season in charge and the two years Houston helmed the program.

Now I’m going to take a look at what Thompson did in his first year running the show, and contrast those statistics with those from the 2015 and 2016 seasons for the Bulldogs (with a few exceptions where I don’t have readily available data for the previous campaigns).

My focus in this post 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)
  • certain defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big” plays)
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting (i.e. punting from inside the opponents’ 40-yard line)
  • the coin toss (of course)

I have another post that focuses on assorted “advanced stats”, including success rate, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers — the “five factors” of college football. In that post, I’m also listing some stats related to success on first down and third down, some of which are particularly illuminating with regards to The Citadel.

I decided to split those numbers into a separate post for reasons of clarity, and because I didn’t want this post to rival War and Peace for length. It might be best to read what is to come in sections; I can’t imagine getting through all this in one sitting. I certainly didn’t write it all at once.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on conference play, and only conference play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. The bottom line for The Citadel is that its on-field success or failure will be judged on how it does in the Southern Conference, not against Newberry, Presbyterian, or Clemson (this year’s non-league slate).

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

  • The Citadel played seven games in 2014 versus SoCon opposition. The teams in the league that year: Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.
  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2015 against SoCon teams. The conference schools competing on the gridiron that year were the same as in 2014: Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford, Furman, Mercer, VMI, and Chattanooga.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2016 versus Southern Conference opponents. The league schools last year: Mercer, Furman, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Wofford, East Tennessee State, Samford, and VMI (the additional opponent being ETSU).

As I did last year, I’ve put most of the conference-only numbers on a spreadsheet. It may be headache-inducing (there are nine different sub-sheets), but the stats are all there. Individual game statistics in each category are included.

I am reasonably confident in the overall accuracy of the statistics, though I am far from infallible. It would have been much easier if the SoCon had league-only online football statistics, but it doesn’t. C’est la vie.

If someone wants to look at the 2015 stats as well, here is last year’s spreadsheet: 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 2016. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2015, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2014 (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): 86.0% (89.1%) [88.9%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 86.0% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 89.1% of the time in 2015. The Citadel ran the ball 88.9% of the time on first down during its 2014 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 85.6% of the time in 2016, after rushing 86.5% of the time on its 2015 plays from scrimmage, and on 84.3% of all offensive plays in 2014.

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

– 2nd-and-short: 94.1% (89.2%) [84.0%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 96.1% (89.8%) [90.2%]
– 2nd-and-long: 83.8% (89.2%) [82.2%]
– 3rd-and-short: 100% (93.1%) [95.5%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 88.5% (82.4%) [90.3%]
– 3rd-and-long: 68.1% (66.0%) [57.4%]

It should be noted that there were 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. Of course, The Citadel’s offense only suffered one sack all season in league play (at VMI, for six yards).

  • Yes, The Citadel ran the ball on all 28 third-and-short situations in SoCon action last year. In 2015, the Bulldogs ran 27 out of 29 times on third-and-short.
  • The Citadel threw the ball a bit more often on first down against East Tennessee State and VMI. The Bulldogs passed slightly more than normal on second-and-long versus Wofford.
  • Against Chattanooga, The Citadel faced a third-and-long on eleven occasions, but only passed once in that situation (it fell incomplete).
  • After attempting only four passes on second-in-short in conference action in both 2014 and 2015, the Bulldogs only aired it out twice in that situation last season. Both were incomplete. That means over the last three years, The Citadel is 4-10 passing on second-and-short, for 108 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

I’m going to alternate between offensive and defensive statistics in this post. I hope that doesn’t prove too confusing. In this section, therefore, I’m listing what The Citadel’s conference opponents did in down-and-distance situations (but just for the 2016 season). This is information I had not previously compiled, but I thought might prove interesting to a few folks out there.

Overall, league opponents rushed on 49.7% of their plays against The Citadel last year. On first down, conference foes rushed 56.2% of the time. Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 75.9%
– 2nd-and-medium: 47.9%
– 2nd-and-long: 44.8%
– 3rd-and-short: 66.7%
– 3rd-and-medium: 36.4%
– 3rd-and-long: 27.3%

There was quite a bit of variance in these numbers.

Samford, for example, passed on 75% of its plays. The only down-and-distance category in which SU ran more than it passed against The Citadel was on 3rd-and-short. Conversely, Wofford threw the ball just seven times in 65 offensive plays from scrimmage.

All four of The Citadel’s home opponents passed the ball (or attempted to pass) more than they ran it. On the other hand, three of the Bulldogs’ road opponents rushed more than passed (Western Carolina was the exception).

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon action: 75.4 plays per game, 11.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 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 does not attempt to move the ball forward (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

Last season, The Citadel had a time of possession edge in SoCon play of over seven minutes (33:41 – 26:19), an increase of almost three minutes from 2015 (32:13 – 27:47), and a two-minute edge over 2014 (32:40 – 27:20).

The Citadel held the ball longer than its opponents on average in three of the four quarters (the second quarter was the exception). The Bulldogs won the TOP battle in the fourth quarter in every game except one (at Wofford).

Nationally (counting all games), the Bulldogs finished second in total time of possession per contest, just behind San Diego (which won the Pioneer League and made the round of 16 in the FCS playoffs).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 SoCon play: 65.7 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 Socon play: 57.6 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game

Against Western Carolina, the Bulldogs’ D was only on the field for 44 plays from scrimmage. The Citadel controlled the ball in a similar fashion versus Chattanooga, only facing 47 offensive plays by the Mocs.

Wofford’s 65 offensive plays from scrimmage (in regulation) were the most run against the Bulldogs’ defense last season, just one more than the 64 by Samford’s offense — perhaps a bit curious, given the diametrically opposite styles of those two teams.

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, so all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon games: 5.56 yards per play, including 5.35 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt
  • 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 numbers were not as good as the season before, though they do match up well with the 2014 season. While the rushing yards per play may have been down, that wasn’t really the issue.

– 2015 passing for The Citadel in seven conference games: 63 pass attempts for 609 yards (three interceptions)

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

Twenty more pass attempts, just six more yards receiving. That has to improve in 2017.

In this post, I’m also going to 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 throw in some statistics from a few FBS teams as well (concentrating on teams of local interest and schools that run the triple option).

The Bulldogs’ offense was just 52nd nationally in yards per play, with a 5.53 average (all games). Sam Houston State’s 7.17 yards per play topped FCS. Samford and Chattanooga were 1-2 in the SoCon.

Western Kentucky led FBS in yards per play, with a 7.65 average. Other FBS teams of interest: Oklahoma (2nd), New Mexico (8th), Navy (11th), Clemson (34th), Air Force (tied for 47th), Army (59th), South Carolina (109th), Rutgers (128th and last).

However, The Citadel’s overall rate of 5.37 yards per rush was 10th-best in FCS (and led the SoCon).

The top two FCS teams in yards per rush were both Big South squads — Charleston Southern (6.02 yards per rush) and Kennesaw State (5.91 yards per rush). Others worth mentioning: Cal Poly (3rd), North Dakota State (4th), James Madison (5th), Gardner-Webb (17th), Chattanooga (21st), Wofford (24th), Western Carolina (38th), Mercer (52nd), Towson (53rd), Lehigh (59th), Furman (60th), Elon (69th), South Carolina State (74th), Samford (87th), ETSU (103rd), VMI (112th out of 122 teams).

New Mexico’s offense led FBS in yards per rush, at 6.61. Navy was 6th, Alabama 8th, Army 12th, Georgia Tech 16th, Air Force 41st, Clemson 73rd, South Carolina 107th, and Texas State 128th and last. That statistical category, and thus the subsequent rankings, counts yardage lost from sacks in its totals, however (this is true for both the FBS and FCS offensive and defensive national statistics/rankings).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 7.02 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 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

While yards per rush for opponents was up almost a full yard over 2015, the pass defense more than made up for it. The highlight may have been the game at Western Carolina; once sacks are taken into consideration, the Bulldogs allowed less than one yard per pass attempt in Cullowhee (30 pass attempts/sacks, 26 net yards passing).

Nationally in FCS, The Citadel was 49th in defensive yards per play (5.34). Stony Brook (4.18) was tops nationally. Also in the top 10: Jacksonville State (2nd), Charleston Southern (6th), Wofford (7th), and Chattanooga (9th). Western Carolina finished in the bottom 10.

To the shock of nobody, Alabama led all of D-1 in defensive yards per play (3.99). The rest of the FBS top 5 in that category included Michigan, Ohio State, Washington, and Clemson. Others of note: Army (25th, a major reason for its winning season), South Carolina (59th), Air Force (72nd), New Mexico (105th), Navy (109th), and Rice (128th and last).

The Citadel was 53rd in FCS in the national defensive yards/rush category (at 4.15, actually better than its league stats). Central Arkansas (2.29) led the nation, with Colgate, Princeton, Jacksonville State, and Stony Brook rounding out the top 5. Wofford was 9th, Chattanooga 21st, South Carolina State 25th, Charleston Southern 27th, Mercer 38th, Towson 49th, James Madison 51st, Samford 55th, Furman 81st, VMI 84th, ETSU 87th, Liberty 107th, Elon 108th, Western Carolina 115th, and Presbyterian 117th (out of 122 teams).

I think knowing how league (and non-league) opponents rate in this category is instructive, not just in terms of comparing defenses, but in comparing them to how they might succeed (or fail) against The Citadel’s run-heavy offense. Of course, these were last year’s statistics; programs obviously change from year to year.

Alabama only allowed opponents an average of 2.01 yards per rush, far and away the best in FBS (Houston was 2nd, at 2.91). Air Force was 15th, Clemson 24th, Army 34th, Navy 77th, Georgia Tech 86th, New Mexico 88th, and South Carolina 92nd.

California was 128th and last, at 6.15 yards allowed per rush. In related news, Cal now has a new head coach who was formerly a defensive coordinator.

Counting all games, The Citadel allowed 6.9 yards per pass attempt, 52nd nationally in FCS. Before you think “well, take the UNC game away and the average would go way down”, keep in mind that the team that averaged the most yards per pass attempt versus The Citadel last season was…North Greenville (9.9 yards per attempt). That is what happens when your opponent throws two TD passes of 90+ yards.

San Diego ranked first in this particular category (5.31). The teams in the SoCon were ranked as follows: Chattanooga (14th), Wofford (16th), Samford (77th), VMI (85th), East Tennessee State (91st), Mercer (115th), Western Carolina (116th), Furman (117th).

Presbyterian, which travels to Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2017, was 121st overall, only ahead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Ohio State, Michigan, and Clemson ranked 1-2-3 in yards per pass attempt (defense) in FBS. South Carolina tied for 30th, while Navy was in the bottom 10. Rice was last, just as it was in yards per play.

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2014: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 56.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%

The 2016 campaign proved to be slightly better for the Bulldogs’ offense in this area than in the previous season, though it should be noted the 2015 squad had one more opportunity in the red zone during conference play (32 to 31) despite playing one fewer league game.

The national FCS leader in this category was Idaho State, at 84.6%. When all games are taken into account, The Citadel ranked only 97th (out of 122 FCS teams). The Bulldogs did not fare nearly as well in offensive red zone TD rate outside of league play, only converting 5 of 14 red zone chances into touchdowns in those contests. Thus, the season rate was just 52.1% (though that total includes two “kneel downs” in the red zone that I did not count in the Bulldogs’ league stats).

I think The Citadel should have a goal of converting at least 75% of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns, something that was done by only ten FCS teams last season.

National champion James Madison finished 14th overall in the category, with a 73.1% red zone TD rate. You will probably not be surprised to learn that the Dukes led all of FCS in red zone opportunities. Part of the reason for that is because JMU played 15 games; on the other hand, the Dukes’ 93 trips to the red zone were 22 more than any other team. James Madison had 44 rushing TDs from the red zone, which may be even more impressive.

The top 3 SoCon teams in red zone TD rate were Furman, Samford, and Chattanooga (with the Paladins pacing the league at 72.1%, 17th nationally).

Incidentally, three of the top ten teams in red zone TD% in FBS last year were triple-option teams — Navy, Army, and New Mexico (the Midshipmen led FBS with a 79.7% TD conversion rate).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2014: 60.0%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 52.2%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%

This is one of the very few defensive stats that wasn’t outstanding. However, it is also true the Bulldogs faced fewer trips inside the 20 by their opponents in 2016 than in 2015 (35 to 30) while playing one more conference game (mirroring The Citadel’s offense to a certain extent).

The Citadel’s defense had slightly better numbers when all games are considered; for the complete season, the Bulldogs’ D had a red zone TD rate of 58.3%, tied for 42nd nationally. Another group of Bulldogs, the bunch from Samford, also tied for 42nd overall. That was the best mark among SoCon teams (again, including league and non-league contests in the totals).

As mentioned above, Furman’s offense did a good job converting red zone chances into touchdowns last year. Unfortunately for the Paladins, the same was not true on defense. Furman’s D allowed opponents to score touchdowns in the red zone on 27 of 34 opportunities in 2016, the worse mark (by percentage) in the country.

Grambling State led FCS in the category, with an impressive defensive red zone TD rate of 34.4%. LSU’s defense was the standard-bearer for FBS, with an amazing rate of just 24.3%.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2014: 46.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2015: 50.0%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%

In all games last season (not just conference action), the Bulldogs had an offensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 47.7%, which led the SoCon and was ninth nationally. Cal Poly, another triple option playoff team, was the overall leader in that category at 53.6%.

Other FCS teams of interest: James Madison (4th overall), North Dakota State (12th), Mercer (17th), Wofford (31st), Gardner-Webb (34th), Charleston Southern (39th), East Tennessee State (44th), Furman (45th), Chattanooga (47th), Western Carolina (50th), Towson (54th), Liberty (77th), Samford (78th), VMI (94th), South Carolina State (109th), Presbyterian (118th).

Navy led FBS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate, at 54.5%. P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan squad was second overall. Air Force was 6th, Clemson 8th, Army 10th, New Mexico 19th, Georgia Tech 51st (and won nine games despite that), South Carolina 109th, and Tulane 128th and last.

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2014: 41.5%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2015: 33.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%

The Bulldogs had even better stats in this category when non-league contests are included. The all-games rate of 30.1% ranked 9th nationally in FCS, and led the Southern Conference.

That isn’t a typo, by the way. The Citadel finished 9th overall in both offensive and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate. That helps you tilt the playing field, which helps you win games.

Jacksonville State led FCS in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate. Montana, Grambling State, Campbell, and Columbia were the other teams in the top 5. South Carolina State was 20th, Chattanooga 25th, James Madison 26th, Presbyterian 30th, Liberty 37th, VMI 45th, ETSU 51st, Charleston Southern 61st, Furman 81st, Mercer 85th, Gardner-Webb 88th, Wofford 95th, Samford 100th, Elon 105th, Towson 119th, and Western Carolina 122nd (last).

Michigan led FBS in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, at 21.0%. Clemson ranked 4th, Alabama 8th, Army 46th, South Carolina 95th, Air Force 102nd, Georgia Tech 126th, and Navy 128th.

The Midshipmen managed to lead FBS in offensive 3rd-down conversion rate (54.5%, as mentioned above) while finishing last in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate (53.5%). There were a lot of successful drives in Navy games last season.

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 8 sacks, 14 passes defensed in 176 pass attempts (8.0% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 20 sacks, 33 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (15.6% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)

Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions.

Also of interest: the Bulldogs have increased their “hurries” totals in league play from eleven (2014) to seventeen (2015) to twenty-one last season. That helps create a little more havoc.

The Citadel averaged 2.63 sacks per game in conference play. Taking all games into account, the Bulldogs averaged 2.33 sacks per contest, which tied for 36th nationally. Grambling State averaged 3.42 sacks per game to lead FCS.

Chattanooga ranked 12th overall (2.92 sacks per game). Other sack rankings among SoCon teams: Samford (47th), Wofford (48th), Mercer (49th), VMI (tied for 102nd), ETSU (also tied for 102nd), Furman (115th), Western Carolina (122nd and last).

Florida State led FBS teams in sacks per game (3.92). Apparently the ACC Atlantic was a sackfest, because three other teams in that division (Boston College, Clemson, and Wake Forest) finished in the top 11. South Carolina tied for 97th, while East Carolina finished 128th and last in the category.

Big plays! Big plays! Big plays! Big plays!

Just for clarification, I am defining “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, 2015: 30 (19 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)

In 2015, 20 of the 30 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. Last season, that was the case for 19 of the 26 long gainers.

That is an average of 3.25 big plays per game in league matchups. For all games, the Bulldogs averaged 3.58 big plays per game (seven such plays against North Greenville helped the average).

Just as a comparison to the offenses of a few other SoCon outfits:

– Wofford averaged 3.36 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 14 of its contests)

– Chattanooga averaged 4.62 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 13 of its contests)

– Furman averaged 4.27 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 11 of its contests)

– Mercer averaged 3.45 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 11 of its contests)

– Samford averaged 5.00 big plays from scrimmage per game (counting all 12 of its contests)

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2014: 47 (21 rushing, 26 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2015: 23 (9 rushing, 14 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)

In 2015, 14 of the 23 big plays allowed by the Bulldogs either resulted in TDs or led to them on the same drive. Last year, 18 of 28 long gainers given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns.

I want to reiterate that the last two sections are about offensive plays from scrimmage in league action. Obviously, the defense can produce a “big play” of its own (like Jonathan King’s 54-yard sack/strip/fumble return for a TD against VMI), and the same is true for the special teams units (such as DeAndre Schoultz’s critical 81-yard punt return for a touchdown versus Gardner-Webb).

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2014: 12 for 20 (60.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 3 for 8 (37.5%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 8 for 13 converted against (61.5%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)

The 4th-down conversion rate for all SoCon teams (counting both conference and non-conference games) in 2016 was 54.5%, so the Bulldogs were basically league average on both sides of the ball. Ideally, The Citadel would be better than average on both offense and defense on 4th-down attempts.

Bumbling rumbling stumbling fumbling…

When evaluating fumble stats, keep in mind that recovering them is usually a 50-50 proposition (which makes perfect sense, if you think about it). There isn’t really much to evaluate beyond that, other than if a team is really loose with the football.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2014: 10 (lost 6)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 12 (lost 8)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)

For all games, the Bulldogs fumbled 22 times, losing 10 of those.

Please note that the official statistical record does not include a fumble against Mercer, which the Bulldogs recovered. That was apparently the result of an error by Mercer’s stats crew. (Hey, it happens.)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2014: 14 (recovered 7)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 8 (recovered 7)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)

The Bulldogs only forced two fumbles in non-conference play, recovering neither.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2014: 37
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2015: 42
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45

Well, at least the average number of penalties per game went down last year. However, penalty yardage per game went up over eight yards per contest, which is somewhat worrisome.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2014: 22
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2015: 29
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33

Penalty yardage against the Bulldogs’ opponents went up about 4 1/2 yards per game from 2015 to 2016.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2014, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2015, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)

I almost didn’t bother adding this category to my spreadsheet, thanks to Brent Thompson. The coach only ordered one punt in opposing territory last season. That came on the opening drive of the game against Western Carolina, on a 4th-and-3 from the Catamounts’ 38-yard line.

In retrospect, it was a curious move, but it more or less worked out. Will Vanvick’s punt was downed on the WCU 3-yard line, and Western Carolina proceeded to go 3-and-out.

This year, I also checked to see how many times opponents punted while in Bulldog territory. As it happens, that only happened one time as well.

Late in the first half, Mercer faced a 4th-and-18 from The Citadel’s 43-yard line. Bobby Lamb elected to punt, which was eminently sensible. The ball was downed on the Bulldogs’ 3-yard line; The Citadel picked up one first down, ran three more plays, and then the half ended.

Let’s talk about 4th 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

Just as I did last season, on the spreadsheet I’ve categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted all 18 teams it faced 4th down in the Deep Zone or the Back Zone.

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 12 times and went for the first down 3 other times, successfully converting twice (the unsuccessful attempt came against Samford).

The Citadel didn’t have the mojo working in the Front Zone, at least on 4th down. The Bulldogs went for the first down 10 times in the Mid Zone, but only picked it up 4 times. Admittedly, one of those successful conversions was a key 34-yard TD run versus Wofford.

There were four field goal attempts from that zone, only one of which was made. As noted above, The Citadel also had one punt in this area.

The Bulldogs had five 4th-down situations in the Red Zone. Four times, The Citadel elected to attempt a field goal (all were successful). The other 4th-down play in the Red Zone resulted in a 17-yard TD run for Jonathan Dorogy against VMI.

Over the last three seasons, The Citadel has had 17 4th-down situations in the Red Zone during SoCon regulation play. Dorogy’s touchdown run is the only time the Bulldogs picked up a first down.

This season, I also tabulated what the Bulldogs’ league opponents did on 4th down against The Citadel.

In the Deep and Back zones, conference opponents punted all 27 times they faced 4th down versus the Bulldogs.

In the Mid Zone, The Citadel’s opposition punted 12 times on 4th and went for a first down on five other occasions. All five attempts to keep the drive alive were successful (two of them were by VMI).

Opponents were 5 for 9 on field goal attempts in the Front Zone (two of the four missed were by Furman). Chattanooga went for a first down on 4th down twice, and went 1-for-2. VMI was 0-for-1 trying for a first down from this distance.

In the Red Zone, opponents were 1-2 trying to pick up a first down, and 3 for 4 on field goal tries.

Two seasons ago, The Citadel began what appeared to be 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.

Last year, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games, going 3-1 both at home and on the road, a tribute to a consistent skill set. 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. I’m not sure what to make of that.

There are two possibilities: one, that the box score mistakenly credited The Citadel for winning the coin toss when in fact the Catamounts actually won it (and deferred); or, for some specific reason related solely to that game, Brent Thompson decided he wanted the ball first.

I wouldn’t mind if someone asked the coach that very question some time. Of course, he may not remember.

As a reminder, this is the first of two statistically-oriented posts I’m making about the previous football season, with an eye to the upcoming campaign. Here is the link to the other one: Link

The season is getting closer. Aren’t you glad?