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

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

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

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

– Also of note, an interview of new Southern Conference commissioner Jim Schaus by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. Here is a friendly tip for the incoming commish:  we do not want Tuesday and Wednesday night football games.

Just say no.

For the seventh consecutive season, it is time to comprehensively review this all-important topic!

Below, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. I’ll also discuss other items of varied importance, including schedule-related information, history, trivia, and other completely useless facts. There is also an audience participation segment. You’ve been warned.

For reference purposes, I’ve compiled the master schedule for the SoCon in a Google spreadsheet. I hope this may come in handy for anyone interested:  Link

This year, the Bulldogs will play 12 games, with one bye week. We begin with the opener, which will be held at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.

August 31: The Citadel opens at home against Towson. The last time the Bulldogs played their opener at home versus a D-1 opponent, in 2015, they defeated Davidson 69-0. My guess is that this game will be more competitive than that one. The Citadel has only played twice on August 31 in its football history, losing both of those contests.

The Tigers were last seen on the gridiron losing at home to Duquesne in the FCS playoffs, 31-10. Towson won its opening game last year against Morgan State, one of seven victories in 2018 for Tom Flacco and company (including a 44-27 win over The Citadel).

After playing the Bulldogs, Towson returns home the following week to face North Carolina Central. On September 14, the Tigers begin CAA play at Maine. The overall schedule for the Tigers looks imposing; it features a game at Florida.

Incidentally, future Towson games versus FBS opponents include road contests against Maryland, West Virginia, and (somewhat curiously) San Diego State. That latter game is scheduled to take place in 2021; even though it is still two years away, I am going to confidently nominate Towson-San Diego State as the most random D-1 matchup for that season.

September 7: The Bulldogs goes on the road to play Elon, the second of four consecutive non-conference matchups for The Citadel to begin the year. The Bulldogs are 1-3 all-time on September 7.

The Citadel last played Elon on November 9, 2013, when the Bulldogs prevailed on the road 35-10. In terms of the calendar, this will be the earliest meeting on the gridiron between the two schools. The only other September encounter was an 18-15 Phoenix victory at Elon on September 24, 2011.

While Elon made the FCS playoffs last season, the Phoenix are looking to break a three-game losing streak that put a damper on the 2018 campaign, including a 19-7 postseason defeat at Wofford. The game against the Bulldogs will be the 2019 home debut for the Phoenix, after an opening game on the road versus MEAC power North Carolina A&T.

Elon starts CAA play the week after facing The Citadel, traveling to Richmond to face the Spiders on September 14. That contest is followed by a matchup at Wake Forest and a home game against James Madison.

Few teams in FCS have a tougher August/September slate than the Phoenix. It is also worth mentioning that Elon has a new head coach — though there is program continuity, with former defensive coordinator Tony Trisciani assuming the role.

Unlike The Citadel, Towson, and many other FCS teams, Elon will only play 11 regular-season games in 2019.

September 14: The Citadel travels to Atlanta to square off against the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. It will be the Cadets’ first September matchup versus a P5 opponent since 2014 (Florida State).

This date has historically been relatively kind for the Bulldogs, as the program has a 4-1 record on 9/14. On the other hand, The Citadel has never beaten the Yellow Jackets in ten attempts (with the last meeting occurring in 2001).

Georgia Tech opens the post-PJ era with a Thursday night game (on August 29) at Clemson, a difficult way for new head coach Geoff Collins to begin his tenure. After a home game versus South Florida (also a tough test), the Yellow Jackets play The Citadel before a bye week on September 21.

By then, Georgia Tech fans should know just how difficult the transition away from the triple option attack will be.

September 21: The fourth and final regular-season non-conference opponent for the Bulldogs is Charleston Southern. While September 21 was great for Earth, Wind, & Fire, with blue talk and love and a lot of dancing, it hasn’t been a date to remember for The Citadel, which is 1-7-1 all-time on 9/21.

The Bulldogs will try to chase the clouds away for the second year running against the Buccaneers. Last season’s game was postponed from an original September 15 kickoff to November 29, a rare Thursday night game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel won 43-14.

Charleston Southern’s 2019 slate begins with a trip to Furman and a game at South Carolina. CSU will host North Carolina A&T the week before it plays The Citadel, and will have a bye week following the game against the Bulldogs.

New CSU head coach Autry Denson may have wished for a more manageable stretch of games to begin his career. He will also be the third straight first-year coach The Citadel will face during this part of the season.

September 28: The Citadel starts SoCon play at Samford. The Cadets are 5-5 on September 28, with the first victory on this date a 1-0 forfeit win over Fort Moultrie in 1912.

In case you were wondering about that one, the soldiers led 13-7 in the 4th quarter when The Citadel scored a tying touchdown. However, before the Bulldogs could kick a PAT that would have given them the lead, Fort Moultrie’s players walked off the field in protest, as they felt the TD had been scored with the help of fan interference.

The opening paragraph of the game story is suggestive:

[On] Saturday afternoon, at Hampton Park, despite the protests of the police and other officials, it proved a hard matter for bashful spectators to tell whether the enthusiastic rooters or the elevens from The Citadel and Fort Moultrie were playing the game. This deplorable state of affairs was the cause of the boys from the island forfeiting the game with a technical score of 1-0 in favor of the Cadets, in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Practically every spectator present appointed himself a field judge, and proceeded to interfere with the players throughout the game, in the meantime taxing his lungs in an endeavor to announce decisions to the State at large.

The Charleston Evening Post, September 29, 1912

Samford’s first game of the season will be on August 24, one week before any of its conference brethren, as the Birmingham Bulldogs play Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff game. That matchup will be held at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

SU then travels to Tennessee Tech on August 31 before enjoying the first of two bye weeks. Samford’s season resumes with a game at Wofford on September 14, followed by three consecutive home games — against Alabama A&M, The Citadel, and Furman.

Samford, like all but two SoCon schools, will play 12 regular-season games in 2019. SU’s final game of the campaign is at Auburn.

October 5: It will be Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and VMI comes to Charleston. The Citadel is 6-4-1 on October 5, with the tie coming in 1985 — against none other than VMI.

The Keydets open their season at Marshall in the Lee Moon Invitational, followed by a home game versus D-2 Mars Hill. VMI starts its SoCon campaign at East Tennessee State before stepping out of conference again for a game in Lexington versus Robert Morris.

After another home game, this time against Wofford, VMI travels to Charleston for the Military Classic of the South, the legendary battle for the coveted Silver Shako. The Keydets are at home versus Samford the following week, so VMI will have consecutive games against teams called Bulldogs.

VMI plays two FBS games in 2019, with the second a November 16 matchup at Army. The Keydets’ only win in that series came in 1981, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the last time VMI had a winning season on the gridiron.

October 12: The Citadel plays Western Carolina. The program is 6-8 all-time on October 12, with the most notable of the six victories a 20-14 win at Army in 1991.

It was the first time The Citadel had ever defeated the Bulldogs of the Hudson, and it spoiled Homecoming Day at Michie Stadium for the home fans. Jack Douglas and Everette Sands both scored touchdowns, and Rob Avriett kicked two field goals. Meanwhile, the defense forced five turnovers.

Western Carolina opens the 2019 season by hosting Mercer. The Catamounts take on North Carolina State the following week before returning to Cullowhee to face D-2 North Greenville. After a bye week, Western Carolina is at Chattanooga on September 28, and then home to Gardner-Webb the week before playing The Citadel.

For the Catamounts, the game against the Bulldogs is the first of three straight contests versus Palmetto State opposition. On October 19, Western Carolina is at Wofford, and the following week WCU entertains Furman for Homecoming.

Western Carolina finishes the season with a relaxing matchup at Alabama.

In a bit of a scheduling fluke, five of the SoCon’s nine teams are off on October 12. There are two league games, WCU-The Citadel and Samford-VMI. Everyone else is on cruise control.

October 19: One of the teams with a bye week on October 12 is Furman, which will be The Citadel’s opponent on October 19. It will also be the Paladins’ Homecoming.

The Bulldogs are only 4-10 on this date, though one of the wins was a scintillating 66-0 victory over Porter Military Academy. That came in the same year (1912) The Citadel was awarded the aforementioned 1-0 forfeit victory over Fort Moultrie, establishing the Bulldogs as the top football-playing military outfit in the Low Country.

The News and Courier‘s headline above the game story described Porter as ‘plucky’ and also stated that the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. Whatever you say, nameless sportswriter (who undoubtedly had a relative playing for Porter).

On the same page of the game story, there was also an advertisement for castor oil with the tagline “Children like it — it does ’em good”. Sure.

Okay, back to the 21st century…

Furman begins its season by hosting Charleston Southern, and then plays consecutive road games against FBS opponents. The Paladins travel to Atlanta to face Georgia State, and then journey to Blacksburg to tangle with Virginia Tech.

FU plays three straight SoCon opponents (Mercer, ETSU, at Samford) before that bye week. After its game versus The Citadel, Furman has two straight road contests, playing Western Carolina on October 26 and Chattanooga the following week.

Furman’s last two regular-season games are at Wofford and home against Point University, an NAIA school located in West Point, Georgia. The Paladins wanted a sixth home game, and wound up with the Skyhawks, which were 3-8 last year.

While there has been some gentle (and not-so-gentle) online mockery of Furman for scheduling that game, I am slightly more sympathetic to the Paladins’ plight — there are limited options when you have an open date the final week of the season. I also have to wonder if the league office could have rearranged the conference slate a little bit in order to help Furman out.

On Point’s website, I noticed that while the football team’s season opener at Kennesaw State (yes, the Skyhawks are playing two FCS teams this year) is just noted as a regular game, the matchup versus the Paladins is listed as an “exhibition game” — at least, for Point. That is something you see occasionally in college hoops when a D-1 squad plays a non-division opponent, but in football it is rather unusual. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen that before for a gridiron matchup.

Also, Point plays its home football games at Ram Stadium, which is located just across the state line in Valley, Alabama.

October 26: Homecoming at The Citadel, for the 92nd time. Mercer will become the Bulldogs’ 18th different Homecoming opponent. The Citadel is 7-6-1 on October 26.

This will be the second time in three seasons The Citadel has played its Homecoming game in October, after 50 straight years of the event being held in November. That is just one of many facts about The Citadel’s Homecoming history you can learn in this inspirational post: Link

Mercer is just one of two SoCon teams that is only playing 11 regular-season games (Wofford is the other). The Bears do have six home games, though.

MU opens at Western Carolina, and then immediately has a bye week prior to its home opener on 9/14 against Austin Peay. The Bears’ other non-conference home game is versus Campbell.

After a second bye week on October 12, Mercer plays consecutive games against military colleges, hosting VMI the week before facing The Citadel. The Bears then have a home game against Samford, so MU will also have two straight games against teams with the nickname “Bulldogs”.

(The “two straight Bulldogs” thing is about to become a theme, so get ready.)

After its own Homecoming against Wofford, Mercer will finish with two straight road games, travelling to East Tennessee State and North Carolina.

November 2: For the third straight week, The Citadel will be involved in a Homecoming game, as the Bulldogs make the journey to Johnson City to play East Tennessee State. On this date, the Bulldogs have an all-time record of 4-6.

ETSU opens the season at Appalachian State, then plays three straight home games, against Shorter (a D-2 school), VMI, and Austin Peay (joining Mercer as one of the two SoCon schools to host the Governors this season).

After a bye week on October 12, the Buccaneers travel to Chattanooga for a Thursday night game, then make the trek to suburban Birmingham to play Samford, prior to the game versus The Citadel. Thus, ETSU will also have consecutive games against teams nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

Following two more league matchups, East Tennessee State will close its regular-season campaign with a game at Vanderbilt.

November 9: Better late than never, The Citadel finally gets a bye week. Ten straight games to open a twelve-game season is less than ideal.

The Bulldogs are the only SoCon team with a bye week in November. Those in charge of scheduling in the league office did The Citadel no favors, to say the least.

November 16: After the week off, The Citadel makes another trip to Tennessee, this time to play Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs are 7-9 on November 16. One of the seven victories for The Citadel was a 3-0 triumph over Clemson in 1916, a contest played on a Thursday afternoon in Orangeburg.

“JOY AND GLADNESS ARE SUPREME HERE” screamed The News and Courier‘s sports headline the following day. The newspaper extolled the virtues of the Bulldogs’ Johnny Weeks, “quarterback extraordinaire and captain unequaled…one of the greatest, if not the greatest gridironists ever turned out by the Marion Square institution.”

The victory all but clinched The Citadel’s second consecutive state championship, as the only remaining game on the Bulldogs’ schedule was against South Carolina, a Thanksgiving Day affair that the newspaper stated for the Gamecocks to win would take “more than a miracle”. (The scribe who penned that sentiment was correct, as The Citadel would go on to defeat South Carolina 20-2.)

Chattanooga has two Thursday night home games this season, its opener against Eastern Illinois and the game versus ETSU that was mentioned earlier in this post. The Mocs arguably have the most difficult non-conference schedule in the league, one that includes road games versus Jacksonville State and Tennessee and a home tilt against James Madison.

Those games are all in a row following the Eastern Illinois game. The Mocs then play two league games before a 10/12 bye week. UTC, like Mercer, has both the “Bulldog double” and the “Military College double”, as it finishes the season with a game at Samford, a home contest versus The Citadel, and then plays at VMI.

Prior to that three-game stretch, Chattanooga has back-to-back games versus Wofford (road) and Furman (home). That is a tough slate, and UTC will also be breaking in a new head coach (Rusty Wright).

Okay, here is the audience participation section of this post. Feel free to skip ahead to November 23 (but let’s be honest; if you’ve somehow come this far, you can read another extra few paragraphs):

The Citadel has played a few Friday night contests in its history, though not many after World War II. Several of them were games played at the Orangeburg County Fair.

I only know of two games played at the “modern” Johnson Hagood Stadium on a Friday. One was against Furman in 1953, and from what I gather was an experiment to see if more people would go to the game. (The answer to that question: uh, no.)

The other was the last game of the 1969 season, versus Chattanooga. I don’t know why that game was played on a Friday.

If anyone reading this does know why, I would appreciate it if you replied to this post with the reason (or you could tweet the explanation to me; just go to @SandlapperSpike).

Thanks in advance. Now to the final regular-season game.

November 23: The twelfth contest of the campaign is a home matchup versus Wofford. The Bulldogs are 6-7 all-time on November 23.

The Terriers are only playing 11 regular-season games, which is not a huge surprise, as Wofford hasn’t played a 12-game regular season schedule since 2002, eschewing four subsequent opportunities to add a 12th game.

Wofford has only five home games, as its three non-conference matchups include two road affairs — the season opener at South Carolina State, and a November 2 game at Clemson. The Terriers’ first bye week immediately follows the SCSU contest.

After the bye week, Wofford hosts Samford and Gardner-Webb before traveling to VMI. The second bye week of the season precedes a Homecoming game versus Western Carolina.

The Terriers finish the regular season with games against Furman and The Citadel (the latter contest in Charleston).

A quick summary:

  • Teams that will have “extra prep time” before playing The Citadel: Furman (and Towson, I suppose)
  • Teams that have road games the week before playing the Bulldogs: Elon, East Tennessee State, Chattanooga
  • Teams that play Wofford during the season before playing The Citadel (“option preview”): Samford, VMI, East Tennessee State, Chattanooga
  • Teams that play Furman during the season before playing the Bulldogs (another type of “option preview”): Charleston Southern, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Mercer, Wofford

Getting closer to the opening kickoff…

2019 preseason college football rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

A few links of interest:

Hero Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 (The Citadel is ranked 25th)

Hero Sports FCS Preseason All-American teams (Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell in on the third team)

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

 

It must be June, because the college football preview magazines are on the street. What follows is a quick review of the mags’ rankings from The Citadel’s perspective, with a few other tidbits thrown in for good measure.

Not included in this writeup: my annual look at the preseason Massey Ratings. I’ll discuss those in a future post.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 has James Madison at #1, with North Dakota State ranked second. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. Four of those five teams were in the magazine’s preseason top 5 last year as well.

Wofford is ranked #8, and Furman is #14. Others of interest: Towson (9th), Elon (18th), and North Carolina A&T (19th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger (named the SoCon’s top NFL prospect), East Tennessee State defensive back Tyree Robinson, and Furman specialist Grayson Atkins (honored as a placekicker on this list).

This year’s SoCon preview was authored by Pat Yasinskas, who is currently based in Tampa. In his reportorial career, Yasinskas (a native of Pennsylvania) has primarily written about the NFL, covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and the NFC South for ESPN.com.

To be honest, I am unsure how much time the graduate of Saint Leo University has spent following the Southern Conference. I found two twitter accounts for him, both inactive.

At any rate, the league preseason rankings for S&S:

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

With regards to The Citadel, Yaskinskas writes that the Bulldogs have “a chance to be competitive, mainly because 10 starters return on offense. The development of quarterback Brandon Rainey will be a key.” He also references new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham and linebacker Willie Eubanks III.

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South. Monmouth is the pick to win that league instead of Kennesaw State, which might raise a few eyebrows (and the Owls did not make Street & Smith‘s preseason top 25).

Towson is ranked second in the CAA, while Elon is picked to finish fifth.

S&S has South Carolina State finishing fourth in the MEAC, with North Carolina A&T the favorite in that conference. Other top-dog choices in FCS leagues include Eastern Washington, James Madison, Princeton, North Dakota State, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Colgate, San Diego, and Nicholls.

In the shadowy world of FBS, Georgia Tech (which will host The Citadel on September 14) is projected to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5:  South Dakota State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville State, and UC Davis.

Wofford is ranked #13, East Tennessee State #17, and Furman #20. Other teams of note include Towson (6th) and North Carolina A&T (22nd).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Tyrie Adams of Western Carolina, who is listed not as a quarterback but as an all-purpose player. Two ETSU defensive stalwarts, defensive lineman Nasir Player and the aforementioned Tyree Robinson, are also on the first team. (Player is a product of Ridge View High School in Columbia.)

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is the magazine’s first-team quarterback and its preseason MVP for the entire division. His teammate, placekicker Aidan O’Neill, is also on the first team.

The magazine also has a preseason second team, which includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger and Furman “bandit” linebacker Adrian Hope. Towson running back/kick returner Shane Simpson is the all-purpose designee on the second team.

The national preview (which focuses on North Dakota State) was written by George Gordon. I could not find any background information on him. I am assuming he is not related to any of the Civil War/British generals who also share his name; he presumably has no association with well-known law enforcement officer James W. Gordon or noted library sciences advocate Barbara Gordon, either.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

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

A brief blurb about The Citadel in the magazine states that defensive lineman Joseph Randolph II is “one of the league’s underrated players”.

On the one hand, ETSU is picked to finish higher in the league standings by Lindy’s than just about any other source. On the other, the magazine references Logan Marchi as returning at quarterback for the Buccaneers, which will not be the case.

Charleston Southern is the preseason #5 team in the Big South, while South Carolina State is picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.

Teams expected by Lindy’s to win their respective FCS leagues include Colgate, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Nicholls, North Carolina A&T, North Dakota State, Princeton, San Diego, Southern, Towson, and UC Davis.

Georgia Tech is picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division, and is ranked the #90 FBS team overall.

As was the case last year, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football has again written the magazine’s national preview of the division, with a Top 25 ranking list, an All-America team, and projected playoff qualifiers. The entire section takes up only four pages in Athlon‘s 304-page tome.

Haley’s top 5: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and UC Davis.

Wofford is 10th in this poll, and Furman is 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon squads projected to make the FCS playoffs, and their meeting in Spartanburg on November 16 is one of ten “must-see matchups” listed by the magazine.

Also ranked:  Towson (#11) and Elon (#21). Both are also expected to advance to postseason play as at-large picks out of the CAA, with James Madison the pick to win that league. Other conference favorites include Colgate, Duquesne, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, North Dakota State, Nicholls, San Diego, and North Carolina A&T.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team features just one SoCon player, with Nasir Player of ETSU again receiving recognition from a major publication. As was the case with Lindy’s, Towson’s Aidan O’Neill is the placekicker.

Georgia Tech fares no better in Athlon than it does in Street & Smith‘s or Lindy’s, as the Yellow Jackets are picked to occupy the cellar of the ACC Coastal Division (with a 4-8 overall record). The preseason national FBS ranking for Georgia Tech by the magazine is #75.

A couple of other notes:

– Phil Steele is not releasing an FCS preview magazine this season. I think the nation will survive.

– Athlon features a list of “The 100 Twitter Accounts to Follow” for college football. Shockingly, @SandlapperSpike did not make the cut. Clearly this an outrage.

While quite a few individuals on Athlon‘s list are represented on my own timeline, there are several people mentioned by the magazine that you couldn’t pay me to follow — in particular, the business/media analysis twitter picks, namely the deadly duo of Darren Rovell and Richard Deitsch. Frankly, life is too short to follow either one of those two killjoys.

Finally, my favorite tweet over the last week or so:

2018 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Towson

The Citadel at Towson, to be played to be played at Johnny Unitas® Stadium in Towson, Maryland, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on September 29, 2018.

The game will be streamed on CAA TV. Spiro Morekas will handle play-by-play, while Gordy Combs 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. 

Luke Mauro (in his first season as the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter is Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview from The Post and Courier 

– Feature on Rod Johnson from The Post and Courier

The Citadel is back on the SoCon map

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

– SoCon weekly release

“Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 9/25 press conference, including comments from Rod Johnson and Shawn McCord

– Brent Thompson’s 9/26 radio show (video)

The Bulldog Breakdown

– Rod Johnson is the SoCon special teams player of the week

– Boxscore from Towson-Villanova

Towson will wear special gold jerseys on Saturday

Whoa…basketball season is almost here!

As noted in the SoCon’s weekly release, all four conference games last week were close. The scores: 38-31 (The Citadel-Mercer), 52-50 (Western Carolina-VMI), 29-27 (East Tennessee State-Furman), and 27-20 (Chattanooga-Samford).

The league seems to be venturing into Big XII territory in terms of offensive productivity (and perhaps a corresponding lack of defensive excellence):

The SoCon’s offensive prowess was on full display on Saturday. Three backs ran for more than 100 yards, with The Citadel’s Grant Drakeford (139), Western Carolina’s Tyrie Adams (117) and ETSU’s Quay Holmes (102) all surpassing the century mark. Three quarterbacks surpassed 300 yards passing, including Mercer’s Robert Riddle (school-record 347), Samford’s Devlin Hodges (366) and VMI’s Reece Udinski (school-record 491). Four wide receivers reached at least 100 yards, including VMI’s Javeon Lara (143), Mercer’s Marquise Irvin (132), Samford’s Kelvin McKnight (128) and Chattanooga’s Bryce Nunnelly (108).

Let’s talk about TV (well, streaming video actually)…

The game will be available on CAA TV, which can be found here: Link

If you have a Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire setup, you can watch the game on any of those devices.

I have a Roku. I was able to add the CAA TV channel (for free!), and from there I was able to find the upcoming contest, which is already posted on the platform.

The announcers for The Citadel-Towson on CAA TV will be the Towson radio team, which includes Spiro Morekas (voice of the Tigers for over a quarter-century) and former TU coach Gordy Combs (career record: 91-91).

There will almost certainly be a delay between the live action and the stream. You could always turn down the sound to the stream and just listen to The Citadel’s tandem of Luke Mauro and Cal McCombs call the game on the radio, then watch the action on the field unfold after they’ve called it.

That is what I did last week, and it worked well. I enjoyed the Mauro/McCombs duo. The cool and collected Mauro ably described the action, serenely side-stepping the occasionally excitable McCombs when necessary. The longtime coach, meanwhile, expertly and enthusiastically pointed out line play and other tactical nuances, while making additional sharp observations.

Of course, instead of watching the video stream, you could be at the game, which is taking place at Johnny Unitas® Stadium (yes, Johnny U’s name is a registered trademark).

Why is Towson’s stadium named after the legendary Colts quarterback?

Several weeks prior to his untimely passing [in 2002], “Johnny U” began serving as community liaison for Tiger Athletics. His role was to assist in obtaining a naming rights partner for the University’s new stadium. The legendary Golden Arm died suddenly, less than a week after tossing his last pass to commemorate the opening of Towson’s new stadium at ceremonies on September 5, 2002.

High spirits returned when Sandy Unitas chose to assume her husband’s role with Towson. With Johnny’s two youngest children as Towson students, Sandy sought to memorialize her husband’s legacy on campus by having the stadium named Johnny Unitas® Stadium.

The complex, which also hosts TU’s lacrosse, field hockey, and track teams, seats 11,198 for football. The playing surface is FieldTurf.

Towson has struggled to fill the stadium in recent years, despite occasionally fielding good-to-outstanding teams (including the 2013 squad, which made the FCS title game). TU’s average home attendance has declined in each of the last six campaigns, from 8,949 fans per game in 2011 to 5,377 supporters per contest last season.

One possible reason for the decline: a pervasive rumor that tailgating had been banned:

The idea that tailgating was banned or suspended stemmed from an incident that took place several years ago.

In September of 2014, a student injury at a tailgate along with several crowded and rowdy tailgates, led to rumors that members of the university administration were considering eliminating tailgating.

After deliberation with student leaders, rather than eradicating tailgating, the President’s Council decided to implement stricter guidelines for the rest of the year…

…Though tailgating never actually went away and some of those new guidelines only lasted for a few months, the damage had already been done. The misconception that tailgating was banned had made its way into the ether of Towson and spread like a wildfire over the following years.

Saturday’s contest is the home opener for the Tigers, and will feature a celebration of 50 years of Towson football (the program began in 1969). The game has been rather heavily promoted by the school in an effort to attract as many students and other supporters as possible. Among the promotions: a season ticket for five games only costs $50, and the first 1,000 students to arrive will each receive a free gold-colored t-shirt.

There may be competition for those t-shirts, as Towson has over 19,000 undergraduates. That is a far cry from the school’s founding in 1866, when it was known as the Maryland State Normal School and was located in downtown Baltimore. The first graduating class included 16 students.

The institution, for much of its history a college for training teachers, relocated to Towson in 1915. There were several name changes, with the school becoming Towson State University in 1976 and then Towson University in 1997. It is now part of the University System of Maryland, and offers over 500 majors in a wide range of disciplines, from accounting to elementary education to nursing. The school also has over 3,000 graduate students.

Towson’s football program began life as a Division III outfit. The Tigers had some success in that classification, including a title game appearance in 1976; Towson narrowly lost the Stagg Bowl that year to St. John’s and its famed coach, John Gagliardi.

The Tigers then spent eight years in Division II before moving up to Division I-AA (now FCS) in 1987. After a stretch as an independent, and a few years in both the Patriot League and the Atlantic 10, Towson became a charter member of the CAA football conference in 2007.

There have been only four head football coaches in the history of the program, and just three since 1972.

Rob Ambrose, who is currently at the helm, has held his position since 2009. Ambrose played quarterback and wide receiver for Towson in the early 1990s.

During Ambrose’s tenure, TU has won two CAA titles and made the aforementioned appearance in the FCS title game following the 2013 season. The playoff run included victories over Fordham, Eastern Illinois, and Eastern Washington. Towson eventually lost in the final to the buzzsaw (and buzzkill) that is North Dakota State.

Towson is the only NCAA school to have made the playoffs in football at the D-3 ,D-2, and D-1 levels.

TU’s two most notable football players are almost inarguably Sean Landeta and Dave Meggett.

Sean Landeta was one of the best punters in NFL history. He had a 22-year career in the league that included stints with five different franchises, including the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams.

He was named to the NFL all-decade team for both the 1980s and 1990s, and was also named to the squads for the Giants’ all-time team, the Eagles’ 75th-anniversary team, the St. Louis Rams’ 20th-anniversary team, and the 40th-anniversary Super Bowl team.

The native of Baltimore actually began his pro career in the USFL, punting for three years for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars. Landeta won two championships in the USFL with that franchise, to go along with the two Super Bowl rings he acquired with the Giants.

Landeta also was mentioned in the “Page Six” section of the New York Post more than any other punter.

Dave Meggett grew up in North Charleston. After an outstanding career at Towson (he won the 1988 Walter Payton Award as the top player in I-AA football), Meggett would become one the better punt and kick returners in modern NFL annals.

Meggett won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants (Landeta was also on that team), and later played for the New England Patriots and (near the end of his career) the New York Jets. He followed head coach Bill Parcells to each of those stops.

After his career ended, Meggett started having well-documented legal problems. He is currently in prison.

Towson was picked to finish 10th in the 12-team CAA in that conference’s preseason poll, which was perhaps a reflection of the Tigers’ 2017 campaign, in which they finished 5-6 (3-5 in CAA play).

Early returns suggest that Towson is considerably better than that preseason prognostication. One caveat: the Tigers started last season 2-1 as well, with a win over Morgan State and a road victory in their third game. Unfortunately for TU, the team promptly lost its next four games.

That seems unlikely to happen this year, given the way the Tigers have played thus far.

It probably isn’t worth taking a deep dive into Towson’s season statistics, given the different kinds of opponents the Tigers have faced. TU handled Morgan State with relative ease (36-10) before getting blown out by Wake Forest (51-20).

While the game against the Demon Deacons may not be of much value in evaluating Towson, it may be worth viewing just to get an idea of how TU likes to play. You can access video of that contest here: Link

Morgan State is 1-3, but the win was a big one — a shocking 16-13 road victory over North Carolina A&T. The win over the Bears may wind up being a quality victory for Towson.

The game at Villanova, however, might be a better guide in determining A) how good Towson is, and B) what the Tigers want to do on offense (besides score a lot of points, obviously).

VU was ranked in the AFCA top 10 prior to its game versus Towson, and had also beaten an FBS squad (Temple). Villanova is clearly a more-than-credible FCS team, and Towson beat the Wildcats 45-35.

Each team in the Towson-Villanova game had 13 possessions. Towson dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 35:01 of game time), and converted 9 of 17 third-down conversion attempts (going 2-2 on fourth down as well). The Tigers ran 88 offensive plays (not counting two kneel-downs). There were 41 pass plays (38 throws, 3 sacks) and 47 rushes, with would-be pass plays that turned into runs included in that total.

Midway through the fourth quarter, nursing a 7- to 10-point lead, Towson began running down the clock. Thirteen of its last fourteen plays from scrimmage (not counting the kneel-downs) were running plays. That means in the first 3 1/2 quarters of the game, Towson threw the ball (or was sacked) on 40 of 74 plays.

My estimate of Towson’s clock usage is that the Tigers averaged just under 23 seconds per offensive play, so most of the time they got to the line in a hurry and snapped the ball as quickly as possible.

After taking out kneel-downs, moving sack yardage into the passing totals, etc., I came up with these yards-per-play numbers:

Towson averaged 6.03 yards per play. The Tigers averaged 7.19 yards per pass attempt, and 4.96 yards per rush. Towson had three passing touchdowns and two rushing TDs. The Tigers also scored a defensive touchdown off a fumble recovery.

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco (6’1″, 208 lbs.) is the younger brother of questionably elite Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The younger Flacco began his college career at Western Michigan before transferring to Rutgers last season. He then moved to TU, presumably for the chance at more playing time, and possibly because he wanted to win a few games.

For the season, Flacco is completing 69.0% of his passes, with eight touchdowns against three interceptions. Taking sacks into account, he is averaging 6.62 yards per pass attempt.

Flacco is also a capable runner, averaging about 11 non-sack rushes per game, and 5.6 yards per carry.

Tailback Shane Simpson (5’9″, 200 lbs.) is from Easton, Pennsylvania. The redshirt junior is leading the Tigers in rushing, averaging 46.3 yards per game (4.1 yards per rush). Simpson also serves as Towson’s primary kick and punt returner.

Twelve different Tigers have caught passes this season. The top-two pass-catchers are redshirt junior Shane Leatherbury (5’10”, 165 lbs.) and redshirt senior Sam Gallahan (6’1″, 193 lbs.). Leatherbury leads the team in receptions with 18, averaging 16.3 yards per catch. He has 3 touchdown receptions, including a 76-yarder against Villanova.

Gallahan has 15 catches, averaging 12.1 yards per reception. He caught a 24-yard TD pass in the Wake Forest game.

Towson’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 292 lbs. The largest of the group is 6’5″, 299 lb. right tackle Matt Kauffman, a redshirt senior from York, Pennsylvania. Kauffman has started 32 games for the Tigers during his career.

Incidentally, TU’s offensive coordinator is Jared Ambrose, younger brother of head coach Rob Ambrose.

On defense, Towson usually operates out of a 4-3. There is no telling how the Tigers will line up on Saturday, though.

Brent Thompson spoke at his press conference on the difficulties encountered in trying to figure out how Towson will defend the triple option:

“It’s been very difficult….they haven’t faced Navy in quite [some time]…we’ve done as much research as we possibly can to find out what may have been [Towson defensive coordinator Lyndon Johnson’s] background in it…who would he consider his go-to guy if he had a go-to guy on the defensive side, maybe it was coach [Randy] Edsall, who he worked for when he was at UConn and at Maryland.”

This is Lyndon Johnson‘s first year as Towson’s defensive coordinator. His previous seventeen years in coaching have come at Maryland (the past five seasons) and Connecticut. In case anyone was wondering, Robert Caro has never written a book about him and has no plans to do so.

Keon Paye (6’0″, 217 lbs.) leads Towson in tackles, with 24. The redshirt junior from Columbia, Maryland intercepted a pass versus Villanova.

Fellow linebacker Diondre Wallace (6’0″, 233 lbs.) has 23 tackles and, like Paye, an interception (against Morgan State; he also had a 14-yard sack in that game). The senior from Baltimore forced a fumble against Wake Forest.

Defensive lineman Bryce Carter (6’3″, 262 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with four. Carter is a redshirt sophomore from Steelton, Pennsylvania. Given that hometown, there is a decent chance that wearing black and gold comes naturally to him.

Troy Vincent Jr. (5’10”, 200 lbs.), a senior transfer from North Carolina State who plays defensive back, returned a fumble for a touchdown against Villanova. Vincent’s father Troy Sr. was an outstanding NFL player (five Pro Bowls), and is currently the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

Aidan O’Neill (6’1″, 199 lbs.), a junior from New Paltz, New York, is Towson’s placekicker. An excellent specialist, he is 5 for 6 on field goal tries this season, and has made all ten of his PAT attempts. O’Neill’s career long with the Tigers is 55 yards.

Towson’s punter is Pat Toomey (6’2″, 196 lbs.), who also handles kickoffs for the Tigers and holds on placements. The redshirt senior from Brick, New Jersey is in his second season as TU’s punter. Last year, he had a net punting average of 37.6 yards.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Towson, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 72 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 56 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Towson is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 57.

The over has hit in all three of The Citadel’s games this season.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 5-point favorite versus Western Carolina; Mercer is a 15 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Samford is a 5 1/2 point underdog at Kennesaw State; Wofford is a 26-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; and Chattanooga is a 14 1/2 point favorite at East Tennessee State.

– Also of note:  Charleston Southern is an 8-point favorite at Hampton, and Alabama is a 48-point favorite over Louisiana-Lafayette.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 45th in FCS, a 22-spot jump from last week. Towson is ranked 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 27% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Towson 31, The Citadel 24. Last week, the Bulldogs were projected to have a 24% chance of victory.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Elon (18th), Wofford (21st), Chattanooga (22nd), Colgate (24th), Kennesaw State (34th), Yale (38th), Mercer (42nd), Samford (48th), UT Martin (52nd), Furman (53rd), Western Carolina (54th), East Tennessee State (68th), Charleston Southern (71st), Tennessee Tech (96th), Gardner-Webb (99th), Presbyterian (103rd), VMI (104th), South Carolina State (109th), Davidson (122nd), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Illinois State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Penn State, LSU, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Washington. UCF is 12th, North Carolina State 15th, South Carolina 16th, Duke 19th, Kentucky 20th, Mississippi State 27th, Florida 38th, Maryland 40th, Wake Forest 46th, Virginia Tech 48th (a drop of 34 spots), Memphis 52nd, Appalachian State 54th, Virginia 55th, Army 58th, Florida State 64th, Georgia Tech 68th, North Texas 72nd, Toledo 75th, Navy 76th, North Carolina 80th, Wyoming 81st, Tennessee 85th, Air Force 86th, UCLA 92nd, Arkansas 101st, Coastal Carolina 102nd, Georgia Southern 104th, Old Dominion 120th, Charlotte 126th, Liberty 127th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Towson’s notable alumni:  actor Dwight Schultz (“Murdock” from The A-Team), WWE personality Stacy Keibler, and broadcaster Joe Miller.

– Varsity teams at Towson were generally known as the Golden Knights until the early 1960s, when the tiger mascot began to gain more currency among students and alumni. One of the leading advocates for the mascot change was none other than John Schuerholz, the Hall of Fame baseball executive. Schuerholz, who graduated from Towson in 1962, has been a frequent benefactor to the school. Towson’s baseball stadium is named for him (and his father).

– Towson’s roster includes 29 players from Maryland. Other states represented on its squad:  Virginia (16 players), New Jersey (12), Pennsylvania (12), New York (6), Delaware (4), North Carolina (4), Florida (2), California (2), and one each from Connecticut, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Texas. Three players are from the District of Columbia, and two Tigers are from other countries — linebacker Malik Tyne (from Canada), and defensive lineman Tibo Debaille (a native of Belgium).

TU has no players who hail from South Carolina, and that of course means there are no Tigers from internationally celebrated pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It is hard to imagine Towson staying competitive in any FCS conference in the long term, much less a solid league like the CAA, if it continues to ignore the incredible talent that wears the Maroon and Orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Mercer game. Sean-Thomas Faulkner (who actually started against the Bears) is now listed on the depth chart. Khafari Buffalo is also on the two-deep, though it seems highly unlikely that he will play on Saturday, as he continues to recover from the injury he suffered versus Mercer.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-6 for games played on September 29. The Bulldogs are 1-3 away from home on that date. A brief review of three of those contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1956:  The Citadel stunned favored Davidson, 34-7, before 12,700 startled but happy fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Paul Maguire caught a 45-yard TD pass from Dick Guerreri, and Joe Chefalo added two TDs — one on a pass from Guerreri, and the other on one of the longer (and more unusual) touchdowns in school history. Bobby Schwarze intercepted a Davidson pass at the Bulldogs’ 5-yard line, and then evaded several Wildcats until he reached midfield. When he was about to be tackled, Schwarze lateraled the ball to Chefalo, who took it the rest of the way for what turned out to be a 95-yard TD. Other point-scorers for John Sauer’s troops included Ray Woodworth, Connie Tuza, and Leon McLemore (the latter two kicking PATs).
  • 1962:  The Bulldogs had no trouble with Presbyterian, winning 28-9. Sid Mitchell and Wade St. John both threw TD passes (to LeRoy Brinson and Vince Petno, respectively), with Mitchell adding a rushing score as well. The Citadel’s first touchdown of the game came on a Charlie Brendle pick-6. Nick DiLoreto had a fine game on defense for the Bulldogs (as did Petno and Ed Gould).
  • 1979:  The Citadel slipped past Appalachian State, 24-23, when Kelly Curry broke up a pass on a 2-point conversion attempt with 5:13 to play in the game; later, a Mountaineers desperation pass as the game wound to its conclusion was batted away by Paul Gillis. Tim Russell ran for a TD and threw for another, with Orion Rust catching the pass that gave the Bulldogs a 24-17 lead (after some good work by Mark Slawson). Danny Miller also scored for The Citadel, after Hillery Douglas recovered a fumbled punt. Attendance: 17,150.

– Per The Citadel’s game notes, the team’s 567-mile trip to Towson is the longest made by the program since 2010, when the Bulldogs traveled to Arizona (the longest trip in school history).

I think it’s good that The Citadel plays occasional games outside the region, and Brent Thompson agrees. As he said on his radio show:

“It will be a good little trip up there…but it’ll be fun. The weather’s different up there, the environment’s different, the climate’s different up there…it’s an opportunity to get out of your conference, play somebody other than a Big South team, and get up there and hopefully come away with a win…sometimes the unknown is a lot of fun for both sides. For us, we play so many teams that have faced the triple option, [so] maybe it’s a different defense you’re going to see.”

When asked about the impact on recruiting, though, Thompson seemed to indicate it wasn’t a major factor. He did note the high interest level of the local alumni in the area, who have the relatively rare opportunity to see the Bulldogs play in their part of the country.

Thompson also said that there are no games like this on future schedules (other than Towson’s return trip next season). That is too bad, really, but somewhat understandable.

As for what will happen on the field this Saturday at Johnny Unitas® Stadium, your guess is as good (and probably better) than mine. I honestly have no idea.

I think Towson is a good, solid team, but the Bulldogs have improved every week and present a challenge that Towson has not faced. I remember when The Citadel played at Old Dominion back in 2013. Despite being a solid favorite, the Monarchs barely escaped with a 59-58 victory, mainly because they seemed to have no idea how to defend the triple option.

Of course, it is quite possible Towson knows exactly how to play defense versus the triple option — and the extra week of preparation the Tigers got with the bye week won’t hurt, either. There is also the issue of the Bulldogs’ D trying to stop TU’s offense, which will be a difficult task.

All in all, there are a lot of unknowns, which might make for a very fun game.

After last week’s win against Mercer, the Bulldogs have some much-needed momentum. We’ll see if that momentum carries over to Saturday.

Game Review, 2018: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package (mostly on the Rod Johnson kickoff return), The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release from The Citadel

School release from Mercer

– “Notes” section on the game from The Macon Telegraph

Facebook video postgame report by writers from Mercer’s student newspaper (I think in association with The Macon Telegraph)

Video from WCBD-TV

– Video from WCSC-TV (via Twitter)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

After the game was over, because I am a mondo sports nerd, I tweeted this semi-serious (but true!) factoid:

If you don’t mind indulging me, I wanted to expand on this, mainly by quoting The News and Courier‘s game commentary from October 3, 1926.

To set this up…

The Citadel traveled to Mercer for a game played on October 2, 1926. It was a hot afternoon (much like it was in Macon yesterday), and about 3,000 spectators were in attendance.

The Bears were a solid favorite. Mercer’s team included Wally Butts and the highly regarded Joseph “Phoney” Smith, who was one of the great halfbacks of his day. (Incidentally, if you think “Phoney” is an interesting nickname, Smith’s brother Byron was known as “Crook”.)

Wally Butts, of course, is best known for his long stint as the head football coach at Georgia (and for an infamous scandal involving Paul “Bear” Bryant).

Despite being at a perceived disadvantage, the Bulldogs were in control for much of the contest and led 6-0 before a Mercer score gave the home team a 7-6 lead. Then, with less than three minutes remaining, the Bears drove down to The Citadel’s 11-yard line, and attempted to punch in a decisive TD. However, Dick “Moonie” Brown and Eddie Doyle had other ideas:

Then came the most dramatic moment of the afternoon. The ball was snapped, Skelton [the Mercer quarterback] darted to the line of scrimmage, passed [by] it a few yards and seemed to rise up in the air and then shoot back towards his own goal, following a sickening impact of human bodies, as Moonie Brown’s head was buried in the runner’s stomach.

The ball rolled to one side. Immediately it was surrounded by blue jerseys. Eddie Doyle, who had only a few moments before replaced the brilliant but tired Oscar Reeder, scooped it up and began the long journey.

In the World War destroyers guarded huge ships crossing the Atlantic. This afternoon the dreadnaughts of The Citadel team conveyed the little destroyer of Macon’s hopes safely down the ninety yards.

Not a [single] Mercer man got within twenty yards near the squadron and to have gotten to Doyle, they would have had to kill several Citadel men.

Mercer’s game program included illustrations of several players, but only one Bulldog: Eddie Doyle.

The writer of the game story excerpted above was The News and Courier‘s sports editor, C.D. Weimer. In the spring of 1927, Weimer left Charleston to take an editorial position with another newspaper.

Before he left, though, Weimer was the guest of honor at a supper held at The Citadel which was attended by the entire Corps of Cadets. He was presented with a watch chain and a small gold football as a token of the Corps’ esteem for him.

Those were the days…

Speaking of the Corps of Cadets, they also celebrated victories a little differently back then than they do today. As described by The News and Courier at the time:

Big Saturday night crowds and heavy early-evening traffic were blocked for ten minutes at the corner of King and Wentworth streets last night when more than 400 Citadel cadets halted there for a hilarious celebration of the Blue and White’s victory over Mercer at Macon yesterday afternoon.

The cadets, led by Butler Doolittle, of Atlanta, of the Class of ’17, and former cheerleader at the military college, had marched the full three miles from the barracks at Hampton Park, cheering and singing all the way. Many had pulled out their shirt-tails. Those who wore khaki-colored shirts pulled out the tails and tied handkerchiefs on the end to gain the effect of a trailing white shirt-tail.

Swinging down Rutledge Avenue after leaving The Citadel, the cadets turned at Calhoun and then turned into King. They all but filled the narrow and busy thoroughfare as they swooped down toward Wentworth. Hundreds of shoppers stopped and gazed; not a few followed.

At Wentworth the perspiring, happy and now hoarse youths hoisted a cheerleader to shoulders and this busy corner heard yells seldom heard except at Hampton Park.

As the cadets ruled the corner impatient motorists pressed their horn buttons, but in the din they were hardly heard.

Okay, enough about the roaring ’20s. Let’s look at some stats from Saturday’s game:

Category The Citadel Mercer
Field Position -5.5 +5.5
Success Rate 47.8% 43.1%
Explosiveness 1.17 1.26
Finishing drives 4.8 (5) 5.2 (6)
Turnovers 0 1
Possessions 9 10
Offensive Plays 69 65
Yards/rush 5.2 3.5
Yards/pass attempt 16.7 7.1
Yards/play 6.9 5.8
3rd down conversions 6/14 6/12
4th down conversions 4/5 1/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 75.0 (3/4)
Net punting 31.0 48.7
Time of possession 32:36:00 27:24:00
TOP/offensive play 28.34 sec 25.15 sec
Penalties 4/50 4/18
1st down passing 3/4 118 yds 9/14 125 yds 1 sk
3rd/long passing 0/1 4/5 44 yds 3 sks
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play 9.8 5.8
3rd down average yards to go 4.6 7.3

Note: Mercer’s final play of the first half is not counted in the numbers above. Also, sacks (and pass plays resulting in sacks) are listed in the passing stats, not the rushing totals — particularly relevant in this game because The Citadel had five sacks.

Random observations:

– Mercer’s 3.5 yards per rush was the lowest allowed this season by the Bulldogs, continuing a positive trend over the first three games.

– The Citadel’s offensive Success Rate was its best so far in 2018, and its offensive Explosiveness quotient was easily the highest in the three contests played so far. The defensive Explosiveness number was the lowest for a Bulldogs opponent this year (which is good, just for clarification).

– The Citadel has had a time of possession edge of at least five minutes in all three games.

– In terms of Red Zone TD rate, the Bulldogs have gone 2 for 3 in all three of their matchups this year.

– This was the first game in which The Citadel did not have the field position edge. However, that doesn’t take into account the kick return TD.

– The Bulldogs’ average yards to go on third down of 4.6 yards was a significant improvement from the first two games of the season, and also indirectly led to the team going for it on 4th down several times. The Citadel was frequently in third-down situations where only four or five yards were needed to move the chains; when the Bulldogs didn’t make it on third down, Brent Thompson was comfortable going for it on 4th-and-short (four of the five fourth-down attempts came on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2).

– Jordan Black threw ten passes against Mercer. Only three of them came in true passing situations (2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long). Given the chance to throw a higher percentage of his passes in standard down-and-distance circumstances, Black excelled. On those seven pass attempts, he was 5 for 7 for 167 yards.

– In a game with more of its share of big plays, one of the most important was a five-yard gain. With the Bulldogs deep in their own territory midway through the fourth quarter, Curt Nixon made a nice catch on 3rd-and-3 to pick up a first down. Four plays later, The Citadel led for the first time in the contest.

– Only two kickoff returns in The Citadel’s gridiron history have been longer than Rod Johnson’s 94-yard game-winner on Saturday. Bud Pough had a 100-yard KOR for a touchdown against Appalachian State in 2002, and Danny Miller had a 95-yarder versus Wofford in 1979.

Johnson’s kickoff return matched Carlos Frank’s 94-yard TD against Georgia Southern in 1996.

– Raleigh Webb’s 77-yard touchdown catch from Jordan Black was the 10th-longest pass play in school annals, and the longest since 2008, when Bart Blanchard threw a 78-yarder to Andre Roberts versus Webber International. It was the longest TD reception caught by a Bulldog not named Andre Roberts in this century.

– Khafari Buffalo’s first career interception was a big one, and a rather athletic play to boot. He was injured making the pick and did not return to the game. I hope he is okay, as it appeared on replay that his head hit the turf when he fell.

– I also wish Mercer quarterback Robert Riddle the best after his unfortunate injury late in the game. He seemed to hurt his shoulder, and it did not look good.

I was impressed with Riddle, who has a sneaky-strong throwing arm. He is one of those guys who you don’t think can make the throw he’s about to make, but then the ball gets where it needs to go. Riddle had a little help from some of his receivers (particularly Marquise Irvin).

– If Riddle is going to be out for an extended period of time, at least Mercer has the benefit of an experienced (and in my opinion, talented) quarterback in Kaelan Riley. The Bears now have a bye week, which should help in his preparation for their next game, which is at Yale.

While I am not someone who automatically supports SoCon teams against non-league opponents, I am definitely rooting for the Bears in that matchup.

– I could write a 5000-word screed on how poor the officiating was at times on Saturday, but I’ll just say that having instant replay doesn’t help if it isn’t utilized properly. Also, there isn’t much the guy in the booth can do about bad pass interference calls, especially those seemingly made long after the play was over.

It made the victory for the Bulldogs that much sweeter, as they had to overcome more than they really should have. My basic takeaway from the contest was that both teams played well, but that the better team on the day deservedly won the game.

I’ll post a preview of the Towson game later in the week. The Tigers will be a tough matchup for The Citadel, as they look to be considerably better than expected.

That writeup probably won’t be as long as most of my previews. I am very busy over the course of the next few weeks (which is why I could not make the trip to Macon), and will not be able to put as much time into research, writing, etc. There will probably not be a review of the Towson game, and my ETSU preview in two weeks will likely be quite short.

That’s not a big deal, though. A little less verbiage on this blog isn’t going to hurt anybody.

Go Dogs!

2018 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on September 22, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Frank Malloy will handle play-by-play, while Jason Patterson supplies the analysis and Kristin Banks patrols the sidelines.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter is Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

– SoCon weekly release

– “Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 9/18 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 9/19 radio show (video)

Bulldogs dodge yet another hurricane

– The game between The Citadel and Charleston Southern has been rescheduled

Mercer has two of the SoCon’s players of the week

Boxscore from Mercer-Samford

Takeaways from Mercer’s victory over Samford

Redshirt freshman Robert Riddle is now Mercer’s starting quarterback

– Mercer press conference (from 9/17) featuring Bobby Lamb and players Eric Jackson and Tee Mitchell

I didn’t get a chance to write a separate review of the Chattanooga game, so I’m going to start by discussing that matchup. At the end of this post, I’ve added my traditionally awful photos from the contest.

First, let’s compare some stats from Game 1 (Wofford) and Game 2 (Chattanooga):

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

 

Category The Citadel Chattanooga
Field Position 11 -11
Success Rate 45.3% 46.9%
Explosiveness 0.727 1.65
Finishing drives 3.5 (6) 2.8 (5)
Turnovers 2 1
Possessions 9 9
Offensive Plays 75 49
Yards/rush 4.3 4.7
Yards/pass attempt 7.5 12.1
Yards/play 4.7 8.8
3rd down conversions 10/18 4/11
4th down conversions 3/4 0/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 50.0 (2/4)
Net punting 25.3 -1.5
Time of possession 37:07:00 22:53:00
TOP/offensive play 27.84 sec 25.60 sec
Penalties 7/78 8/47
1st down passing 2/4 44 yds 6/12 131 yds
3rd/long passing 2/2 14 yds 1 sk 5/6 149 yds 1 int
4th down passing
0/0 0/1
1st down yards/play 5.8 7.4
3rd down average yards to go 6.5 9.2

Note: Overtime statistics are not included, and the same is true for Chattanooga’s final three plays of the first half. As I mentioned in the review of the Wofford game, the stats for that contest do not include The Citadel’s last play of the first half.

One of the things that might surprise some folks is that The Citadel and Chattanooga had almost the same percentage of successful offensive plays. The Mocs, of course, had a significant edge in “explosive plays”, which was also the case for the Bulldogs against Wofford. The numbers in that category were quite similar for both games.

On the defensive side of the ledger, my primary observation was that all too often, UTC quarterback Nick Tiano had time to admire the late afternoon sky above Charleston before throwing the football. The Bulldogs obviously struggled to cover Bryce Nunnelly, but almost all of the wideout’s big gains came on slow-developing plays.

Tiano was not sacked, despite throwing 28 passes. He was pressured occasionally, as The Citadel was credited with six “hurries”. The Bulldogs also successfully defensed six passes (five breakups and a pick). While each hurry did not automatically result in a pass breakup/interception, the fact there were six of each was not coincidental.

The Citadel’s offense was better versus UTC than it was against Wofford, at least in terms of consistency. The big plays largely were absent, however, aside from Jordan Black’s nifty 25-yard TD toss to Grant Drakeford at the end of the first half. That play was the Bulldogs’ biggest “explosion” play in the first two games, one of only three plays so far in the young season with an IsoPPP number over 2.

All three of those “2+” plays were pass plays. I think that if Jordan Black has the opportunity to throw the ball more often in standard down-and-distance settings, rather than mostly airing it out in passing down situations, The Citadel could see a sizable uptick in explosive plays. One thing I was happy to see against the Mocs was Black throwing the ball on first down, which he did four times. He also passed twice on second-and-short plays.

On The Citadel’s 11 pass plays (ten throws and a sack) versus Chattanooga, the Bulldogs were in obvious passing situations five times, and in standard downs on six occasions. I think that is a solid mix. It is much better than what happened against Wofford, when all 11 of Black’s passes came in actual or de facto passing situations.

I appreciate Brent Thompson discussing his fourth-down calls from the Chattanooga game on his radio show. It is interesting to get insight on the coach’s thought process for each of those situations.

Generally, I agreed with his decision-making versus UTC. Some of his calls were very aggressive, particularly going for it on 4th-and-2 from the Bulldogs’ own 30-yard line in the first possession of the third quarter. The fake punt was also a take-no-prisoners play; alas, it got short-circuited by a fumble.

Both of those calls came in or around what I denoted as “Boo Territory” on my 4th-down decision chart, a graphic created for my August essay on creating more big plays. “Boo Territory” is actually a reference to one of The Citadel’s mascots, though it could also serve as what the reaction in the stands might be for a failed attempt in that part of the field. At any rate, I liked the pugnacious nature of the calls.

However, there was a more conservative decision made on The Citadel’s opening possession of the contest. The Bulldogs had already converted a 4th-and-2 on the UTC 38-yard line earlier in the drive. On 4th-and-10 from the Mocs’ 33-yard line, though, Thompson elected to punt. The kick went into the end zone, for a net of only 13 yards.

I wish the Bulldogs had gone for it, even on 4th-and-10. Part of my thinking is that there are usually a very limited number of possessions in The Citadel’s games (against UTC, each team only had nine).

When a drive gets inside the opposing 40, it may be that taking a chance is the way to go, simply because there will be few opportunities to get back in that area over the course of the contest.

Thompson wanted to play field position at the time. He may also have influenced by the third-down play, which gained only 3 yards, and came after a low-blocking penalty put the Bulldogs “behind the chains”.

Speaking of that low-block infraction, I was interested (and concerned) by this article in SBNation about the rule changes on blocks below the waist:

College football has seemingly figured out a way to slow down a good triple-option attack: throw flags…Army has gone from averaging 4.2 penalties per game (10th in FBS) to 6.3 this year (63rd), and Georgia Tech has gone from 4.0 (fifth) to 5.0 (22nd).

A tweet embedded in the piece noted that Army “has been called for 7 illegal blocks in [its] first 3 games [after the] Black Knights were whistled for 4 illegal blocks in 13 games last season”.

The Bulldogs have been called for a low block in each of their first two games. The 15-yard penalty assessed for each infraction all but eliminates a possession for a triple option team, as Brent Thompson pointed out on his radio show.

One suspects the powers-that-be in college football would like to see the triple option go the way of the dinosaurs, preferring the more open (and arguably more dangerous) spread offenses currently in vogue.

The rule changes for this season appear particularly specious. As Paul Johnson was quoted as saying:

Either blocking below the waist is dangerous or it’s not. It’s not any more dangerous five yards down the field than it is on the line of scrimmage. If it’s that scary, they ought to not tackle below the waist.

This is an issue that will be watched throughout the season. That includes games played in the Southern Conference.

Two quick special teams comments:

  • The Bulldogs have to start making field goals.
  • Chattanooga averaged a net of -1.5 yards (!) on two punts, but somehow did not allow any points on the subsequent possessions.

In August, Mike Capaccio was named The Citadel’s new director of athletics. Last week, he discussed several issues related to his position in a wide-ranging interview with Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. You can read the article here: Link

I wish Capaccio the best of luck, but I have to shake my head at the hiring process.

Capaccio had been serving as The Citadel’s interim AD since mid-July, but says he had not put his hat in the ring for the full-time gig until he was asked to.

“I was encouraged to apply by some people in administration, and it was not something I was anticipating,” he said. “I was happy in the role I was in. It happened very quickly; it was under a three-week deal from when I applied until I was named AD.

“What I was told is that I was the guy who could come in and get this thing going, because I already knew the inner workings of the organization. The Citadel is a different school, and it takes time to get accustomed to it.”

In other words, someone came to Capaccio, said “Hey, you need to apply” — and less than three weeks later he was the AD.

That, after statements like these:

“The challenge is, we truly have an unbelievable candidate pool in front of us,” [search committee chairman Dan] Bornstein said. “It will be very difficult to narrow the field, because we have an extraordinary field, and an extraordinarily diverse field in all aspects.”

Daniel Parker of Parker Executive Search told the committee that the field of 100 interested applicants was unusually large.

“Typically, we have 60 to 70 candidates,” he said. “On this search, we’ve had more than 100 who went through the process of submitting a letter of interest and a resume, providing references and completing a questionnaire.

“We have sitting athletic directors from Divisions I, II and III, deputy ADs, senior associates, senior women’s administrators, with ethnic and gender diversity. They come from backgrounds in compliance, fund-raising and coaching.”

Parker also said there were candidates from all the “Power 5” conferences (the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12).

Who are we kidding here?

First of all, why was a search firm hired (for $70,000) before potential internal candidates could be assessed?

Parker Executive Search supposedly rustled up over 100 candidates (including “sitting athletic directors from Divisions I, II, and III”). Despite that, someone (or multiple someones) in an administrative capacity at The Citadel decided, very late in the game, to call an on-campus employee and ask him to apply for the position.

Like I said, I hope Capaccio does a great job for The Citadel. He has a reputation for being an outstanding fundraiser, and the military college certainly needs someone with that skill set as its AD.

You will excuse me for thinking, however, that Parker ought to refund the school at least part of that $70,000 — or if not, explain the real purpose of the search.

With the recent postponement (and cancellation, in some cases) of numerous Division I football games due to Hurricane Florence, there has been talk that college football needs to make an adjustment in its annual calendar. Given the number of contests affected by weather problems in recent years, schools are starting to look for ways to make their respective schedules more flexible.

The easiest way to do that is to add a second bye week to the schedule. This is something that has been under discussion in recent years.

It won’t matter next year, because in 2019 there are 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and the Saturday after Thanksgiving (rather than the usual 13). Every FBS team will have two byes next fall.

However, most years there are only 13 such Saturdays, and hence only one bye week.

If a change would be made, the college football season would start (for most teams) the weekend before Labor Day, meaning the schedule would start one week earlier that it does now.

This would have repercussions for FCS schools as well, because it would increase the chances of the subdivision allowing teams to schedule 12 regular-season games on an annual basis, instead of just having the option in seasons with 14 Saturdays (like in 2019).

An earlier start to the FCS regular season could be pushed again if the FBS restructures its regular season. The higher level of Division I has been considering a standardized 14-week format that would require two byes for each FBS team.

Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander, whose conference voted against the permanent 12th game in the FCS, agreed such a change on the FBS level could become a game-changer for the defeated proposal in the subdivision.

“The Big South membership was not unanimous in its opposition to the 12th game proposal,” he said. “However, we voted against it because we prefer that the (NCAA) Football Oversight Committee conclude its study of the football calendar before any further extension of the season. At the conclusion of that study, should there be a move toward a standard 14-week season, our position may change.”

I think a 12-game regular season would be quite beneficial to The Citadel. It would almost certainly mean an additional home game every season for the military college, and with the added revenue that goes along with it.

The postponement of The Citadel’s game with Charleston Southern created a bit of scheduling trivia. From The Citadel’s game notes:

The change in the schedule means the Bulldogs will open the season with three straight conference games. That has not happened since the Bulldogs opened the 1926 season with three straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association games.

In 1926, The Citadel started 2-1, losing to Chattanooga but beating Stetson at home and winning…at Mercer.

The 1926 team is better known for beating both Clemson (15-6) and South Carolina (12-9) that season, each away from home (the victory over the Gamecocks came in Orangeburg). The head coach was Carl Prause, and the team was captained by Ephriam “Ephie” Seabrook, a two-time All-State guard for the Bulldogs.

Seabrook would later coach the South Carolina team in the Shrine Bowl (in 1941). He is also remembered for driving Tom Howie (the future “Major of St. Lo”) from a Rhodes Scholar candidate interview in Columbia to Charleston in 1928, arriving just before kickoff of a game versus Clemson. (Led by the irrepressible Howie, the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 12-7.)

It is hard to put much stock in Mercer’s team statistics after three games, partly because the Bears have only played one competitive game. MU opened the season with a 66-14 loss to a very good Memphis team, then followed that up with a 45-3 pasting of Jacksonville, a Pioneer League squad.

Last week, Mercer opened its SoCon campaign with a 30-24 victory at Samford, an eye-opener for a lot of people (though maybe not such a big surprise to veteran observers).

The game was fairly evenly played on the stat sheet, but the Bears dominated time of possession (35:27), consistently converting on third down (7 for 13). Mercer held a 17-7 lead at halftime and never relinquished it.

Robert Riddle (6’3″, 207 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, is the new starting quarterback for the Bears. The game against Samford was Riddle’s first as the full-time starter, as he has won the job over last year’s QB, Kaelan Riley.

Riddle had a fine game versus the Birmingham Bulldogs, completing 23 of 34 passes for 316 yards, with one TD and one interception. For that effort he was named the SoCon’s offensive player of the week. He is apparently no relation to former Elon quarterback/pugilist Scott Riddle.

Senior running back Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 204 lbs.) rushed for 103 yards against Samford. Mitchell, a second-team preseason All-SoCon selection who led the Bears in rushing last season, scored two touchdowns against The Citadel in last year’s contest between the two teams. He went to high school at The Bolles School in Jacksonville before spending a year at the Air Force Academy prep school.

Nine different Mercer players caught passes in last week’s game. Marquise Irvin (6’3″, 216 lbs.), a preseason first-team all-league pick, led the Bears in receptions with six. The native of Huntsville had three catches versus the Bulldogs last season. He also serves as Mercer’s punt returner.

Sam Walker (6’4″, 242 lbs.) was the preseason first-team all-conference tight end in the SoCon. He is a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia.

Although listed as a backup, converted defensive back Stephen Houzah (5’9″, 161 lbs.) showed his potential as a wide receiver against Samford, catching a 73-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 293 lbs, though that is including a 255 lb. right tackle (Dawson Ellis). Listed weights for the other four positions on the o-line: 287, 297, 305, 319.

The left tackle spot is manned by 6’3″, 287 lb. redshirt junior Austin Sanders, a preseason first-team all-SoCon selection. Sanders, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, began his collegiate career at Mississippi Valley State.

Mercer generally employs a 3-4 defense, though as must always be noted, teams often line up differently when facing a triple option opponent.

The Bears had three preseason all-conference picks on D, one for each level of the defense. One of them, redshirt senior outside linebacker LeMarkus Bailey (5’11”, 199 lbs.), was a first-team selection.

On the defensive line, Mercer features second-team all-SoCon preseason choice Isaiah Buehler (6’3″, 259 lbs.) and 6’0″, 288 lb. noseguard/bowling ball Dorian Kithcart. They are a tough duo; Kithcart in particular had an outstanding game versus The Citadel last season.

The third man on the d-line is seriously large 6’5″, 297 lb. defensive end Destin Guillen. The Greenville resident, like Kithcart a redshirt junior, is one of three South Carolinians on the Mercer roster.

Eric Jackson (5’8″, 172 lbs.), Mercer’s starting strong safety, was a preseason all-league pick. Jackson had seven tackles against the Bulldogs in last year’s contest.

Starting cornerback Harrison Poole (5’11”, 196 lbs.) had an interception last week versus Samford, and also had a pick against The Citadel last season.

Placekicker Cole Fisher (6’2″, 188 lbs.) was last week’s special teams player of the week in the SoCon. He made 3 of 4 field goal tries against Samford. Fisher also handles kickoffs for the Bears.

Matt Shiel (5’11”, 209 lbs.) is Mercer’s starting punter. Shiel is a native of Doncaster, Australia.

Shiel has one of the more unusual college backgrounds in Division I football, as he played his freshman year of football at Auburn before transferring to Mercer for the 2015 season. He subsequently went back to school in Australia for two years before transferring back to MU this year. Yes, he has actually transferred to Mercer twice.

Starting wide receiver David Durden (6’2″”, 197 lbs.), a freshman from Midville, Georgia, is listed as the primary kickoff returner for MU, while Steven Nixon (5’11”, 221 lbs.) returns as the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Macon, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 92 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 69 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Mercer is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 48 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 17-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Western Carolina is a 24-point favorite over VMI; and Samford is a 3 1/2 point favorite at Chattanooga.

Wofford is off this week.

– Also of note:  Elon is a 13-point favorite at Charleston Southern, and Alabama is a 25 1/2 point favorite over Texas A&M. The Citadel’s opponent next week, Towson, has a bye this week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 67th in FCS. Mercer is ranked 28th (a 14-spot jump from last week).

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 24% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Mercer 29, The Citadel 19.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (19th, a leap of 19 spots from last week), Elon (21st), Colgate (25th), Kennesaw State (27th), Wofford (31st), Samford (37th), Furman (38th), Yale (39th), Chattanooga (40th), Western Carolina (52nd), Charleston Southern (63rd), UT Martin (68th), East Tennessee State (86th), Gardner-Webb (95th), Tennessee Tech (96th), South Carolina State (97th), Presbyterian (102nd), VMI (116th), Davidson (124th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Eastern Washington.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Washington. Mississippi State is 11th, Notre Dame 12th, Virginia Tech 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Duke 20th, Boston College 21st, South Carolina 29th, Wake Forest 38th, Vanderbilt 46th, Memphis 52nd, Appalachian State 56th, Florida State 59th, Army 64th, Navy 65th, Toledo 73rd, North Texas 74th, Tennessee 75th, Air Force 78th, Wyoming 80th, North Carolina 88th, Georgia Southern 108th, Coastal Carolina 110th, Charlotte 125th, Liberty 126th, Old Dominion 128th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Mercer’s notable alumni:  music promoter Phil Walden, NBA player/coach Sam Mitchell, and publisher/executive Reg Murphy.

– Mercer’s roster includes 62 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  Florida (12), Alabama (5), Tennessee (4), South Carolina (3), North Carolina (2), and Texas (1).

Mercer has one of the least geographically diverse rosters in the SoCon, though not included in the above breakdown is punter Matt Shiel, who as noted earlier is from Australia.

The three Palmetto State players on Mercer’s squad are the aforementioned Destin Guillen (a product of Berea High School), redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Burnett (who attended Airport High School), and freshman offensive lineman Tyrese Cohen (from Midland Valley High School).

However, Mercer once again has no players from legendary gridiron factory Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a circumstance which in the long run will result in a painfully low ceiling for the Bears’ aspirations as a program. As has been said many times, ignoring the famed Maroon and Orange is a perilous maneuver.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Chattanooga game. Mason Kinsey makes an appearance on the depth chart as one of the Bulldogs’ defensive tackles. Also, Rod Johnson is listed as the primary kick returner.

– The Citadel has a 3-5-1 record on games played on September 22, including a 2-1 mark in SoCon play. The three wins:

  • 1962: 19-0 over Davidson, in a game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Dwight Street caught a touchdown pass from Wade St. John, and the halfback also added two field goals. Sid Mitchell had the other TD for the Bulldogs, with his score following a drive set up by a Joe Cannarella fumble recovery.
  • 1979: 27-14 over Vanderbilt at Dudley Field in Nashville. Tim Russell was 7 for 12 passing for 111 yards and a TD (caught by Byron Walker), and also added 74 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, both Stump Mitchell and Danny Miller rushed for over 100 yards, with Mitchell scoring once and Miller twice. The Bulldogs rolled up 499 yards of total offense.
  • 1990: 21-10 over Marshall before 17,105 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Everette Sands rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown, while Jack Douglas accounted for The Citadel’s other two TDs. Lester Smith, J.J. Davis, and Shannon Walker all had interceptions, as the Bulldogs’ defense forced six turnovers.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities:  Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The Bulldogs are 3-0 in Macon, with wins in 1926, 2014, and 2016.

– Saturday is Family Weekend at Mercer. I suspect there will be a lot of people on campus, with many of the visitors (but not all) attending the game. The parking lots open at 9 am.

It is hard to judge how The Citadel will fare this week, mainly because of the unexpected break in the season. While the Bulldogs are 0-2 so far, there are positives that can be taken from their play to go along with some obvious negatives. However, now The Citadel has to essentially re-launch its season.

Can the Bulldogs establish some momentum? Will they avoid falling behind early in the game?

Mercer is coming off what might be its most impressive victory in conference play since Bobby Lamb restarted the program, and will be at home. There is an element of the unknown about the Bears as well, however.

How will Mercer react to a big win and subsequently being a solid favorite the following week? Also, I have this nagging question running through my head — just how good is Samford, really? Do we know for sure?

I guess we’ll find out some of the answers to those questions, and more, on Saturday.

Here are the really lousy pictures from the Chattanooga game. They are not annotated, although the game shots are in order; as usual, there are more photos from the first half than the second, for a variety of reasons (but mostly operator error).

 

League-only statistics from the 2017 SoCon football season, with assorted observations

League links of interest:

– Keeper’s College Football Ratings “Starters and Stats Lost” spreadsheet has been updated

– Hero Sports’ previews for The Citadel, Chattanooga, East Tennessee StateFurman, Mercer, and Samford (with more to come)

– The College Sports Journal’s preview for VMI, Chattanooga, ETSU, The Citadel, and Western Carolina (with more to come)

– Conference preview from “SoCon John”: Link

– Local columnist from Macon says Mercer is playoff-bound

– Terrell Owens is going to celebrate his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Chattanooga instead of Canton

– East Tennessee State signs 10-year marketing/sponsorship/media sales agreement that could be worth up to $15 million

My analysis (such as it is) of the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

While compiling information for my posts about The Citadel’s 2017 football statistics, I wound up with a spreadsheet that included stats for all the SoCon teams (league games only). I decided that it wouldn’t hurt anybody if I made an additional, SoCon-related post centered around that spreadsheet, with some random thoughts and observations.

Anyway, here it is:

2017 SoCon football statistics

As mentioned, these are conference-only stats for the nine league football teams. I got them from the SoCon’s own website, as this year the conference posted league-only numbers very early in the off-season. For that, I’m grateful.

All I’ve done here is put them on a Google spreadsheet, which was not exactly heavy lifting. I have added a few different categories for offense and defense (and one for the kicking game). There are also tabs for things like attendance, game length, and the coin toss, which I gathered myself (not that it was too hard).

I tried to make it as easy to read as possible, though I’m not sure I completely succeeded in doing so.

Below are a few comments, mostly arbitrary (but not capricious).

When it came to the coin toss, most of the squads in the league were ready to defer at a moment’s notice.

I mean that literally. Seven of the nine conference teams, on winning the coin toss in a SoCon game, always chose to defer the option to the second half.

As I’ve written before, there is no question that the rise in teams deferring the option can be traced to the influence of Bill Belichick:

Among the many changes to the sport Bill Belichick has generated has been the growing trend of teams deferring after winning the opening coin toss. Gone are the days when teams licked their lips at the chance of opening the game with a scoring drive to take an early lead, as the option to delay that chosen possession until the start of the second half has increasingly become in vogue.

That’s in large part due to the way Belichick and Tom Brady have worked to flip games upside-down by scoring on the final possession of the first half and then scoring on the opening possession of the second half — the “dreaded double score,” as it’s come to be known by every broadcaster. If you can pull it off, it’s effective, and so many opposing coaches have opted to defer when they win the opening coin toss — especially when facing the Patriots.

Of course, you have to be careful that your team captains know what to tell the official after winning the coin toss in case you want to try something different, as Belichick himself learned a couple of years ago.

You also have to make sure they know what to do if the other team wins the coin toss, as Texas found out in 2014:

Texas defensive tackle Desmond Jackson apologized for his role in bungling the coin toss in the Longhorns’ loss to UCLA on Saturday.

UCLA won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half. That meant Texas would have the option of choosing to kick or receive to start the first half. The Longhorns chose to kick, allowing UCLA to choose to start the second half with the ball.

Thus, UCLA received to open both halves, essentially gaining a free possession. That was a big deal, as the Bruins wound up winning the game by three points, 20-17.

Back in the SoCon, Western Carolina and VMI were the league rebels, with both teams electing to receive when winning the coin toss (which each did three times last season).

What I found curious is that they didn’t always do so in non-conference games.

Western Carolina won the coin toss in both of its first two games, against Hawai’i and Davidson, and deferred the option each time. By the time the Catamounts played North Carolina at the end of the season, however, WCU was ready to go on offense, electing to receive in that game.

VMI also deferred after winning the coin toss in its season opener, against Air Force. I was unable to determine the coin toss winner for VMI-Robert Morris, though I suspect the Colonials won and took the ball.

The Citadel won the toss in its first game of the season, versus Newberry, and elected to receive. That is the only other non-conference game from last year that I found in which a SoCon team didn’t follow its standard defer-or-receive decision-making process.

One thing I was curious about with regards to game length was whether or not instant replay review had an appreciable effect on time.

Last season, Mercer and The Citadel were the only two schools to have review capability. The fact the SoCon is playing conference games under two different sets of rules is beyond annoying, but that’s not my focus here. I’m just evaluating the length of the games.

The Citadel’s away games took on average 2:55 to play. When the Bulldogs played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with instant replay review, contests took on average 3:06 to complete.

As for Mercer, it had an average home game time of 3:18. The average length for the Bears’ three non-JHS road games was 2:59 (and one of those games, against ETSU, went to overtime).

In terms of time, the games at Five Star Stadium were the longest conference road contests played by VMI, Wofford, and Chattanooga. Also, the second-longest SoCon road games for VMI and Wofford were their respective matchups at The Citadel.

Samford’s game at Mercer was the Birmingham squad’s second-longest league away matchup, in part because SU’s longest road game, at Western Carolina, was delayed in the fourth quarter by lightning.

The differential is rather striking. The league might claim that replay review has little to do with the time difference, and you can surely put some of it down to small sample sizes.

However, some of the reviews were very lengthy, including one in The Citadel’s game against Western Carolina that took much longer than what was stated on the game report. Both the length of the reviews and the accuracy of the game reports are issues that the conference must address.

Other tidbits on the length of league contests:

  • Shortest game: The Citadel at Chattanooga, 2:44
  • Longest game: Samford at Western Carolina, 4:10
  • Longest game not delayed by lightning: Chattanooga at Mercer, 3:31
  • Teams that averaged under three hours per game on the road: VMI, The Citadel
  • Teams that averaged over 3:10 per game on the road: Chattanooga, Furman, Samford
  • Teams that averaged under three hours per game at home: VMI
  • Teams that averaged over 3:10 per game at home: Mercer, Samford, Western Carolina

I’ve also included a tab for league game attendance. A few quick notes:

  • Largest crowd: Wofford at Mercer, 12727
  • Smallest crowd: Samford at VMI, 3310
  • Largest home crowd variance: Samford, 3523 vs. Chattanooga and 9233 vs. The Citadel
  • Smallest home crowd variance: ETSU, 7087 vs. Wofford and 8022 vs. Mercer
  • Largest road crowd variance: Samford, 3310 at VMI and 12018 at Western Carolina
  • Smallest road crowd variance: The Citadel, 7521 at Chattanooga and 10105 at Furman

Odds and ends, 2017 SoCon action edition:

– Western Carolina led the league in net rushing if you take sacks out of the equation (as you should). The most important player any league team will have to replace for the upcoming season, in my opinion, is former WCU running back Detrez Newsome.

– Furman quarterbacks were only sacked twice in conference play, despite 142 pass attempts. The Paladins’ 1.4% sack against rate was easily the league’s best. The SoCon average was 6.3%.

– The passes defensed rate in league action was 12.6%. Samford led the conference in PD rate, at 15.8%, slightly ahead of Western Carolina.

– The Citadel led the conference in time of possession (and led FCS in that category as well).

– The kickoff touchback rate in SoCon play was 28.8%, but East Tennessee State’s t-back rate was 72.7%, by far the highest in the conference.

– Wofford’s +10 turnover margin was the best in the league. VMI trailed the field with a -18 margin.

– The average yards per play in conference games was 5.22. The top offense in y/p was Furman (6.68). The best defense in the category was Samford (4.72).

There are now less than two months to go before the season begins. The first league game takes place on September 1, when The Citadel plays at Wofford.

We’ll be ready.

“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2017 SoCon campaign

Other recent stats-related posts:

Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

League-only statistics for the SoCon in 2017 (all teams), plus assorted observations you can’t live without

This is a post primarily about the “Five Factors” of college football. For what it is worth, I made a similar post last season about The Citadel’s 2016 season.

I’m also going to mention three other not-so-advanced stats later in this post, but we’ll start with the Five Factors. As I did last year, let me quote Bill Connelly of SB Nation on what the Five Factors actually are:

…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 2018, but there is no particular reason why they shouldn’t still be valid. Connelly made adjustments to some of the formulas that go into the five factors (especially the “explosiveness” category), but the basic principles are the same.

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

What follows is a package of advanced statistics for the Bulldogs’ 2017 season. It comes with its very own spreadsheet.

Keep in mind that these stats are for SoCon games only. Also, please remember that the stats were compiled by me, so they may not be absolutely perfect. You don’t get a refund if there are any mistakes, though.

I’ll be using some FBS numbers for comparison purposes, as there are no readily available equivalent stats online for FCS teams. Now, you may be wondering whether or not FCS stats would be similar to those for the FBS.

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

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

As someone who has watched various levels of football for a long time, I tend to agree with that idea. I will add, though, that while there may be a slightly wider variance in terms of overall quality in FCS as opposed to FBS, it is probably less prominent in most intra-conference games, like those for the SoCon, where for the most part eight of the nine teams were very competitive last season.

Now that I’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the Five Factors.

Field position

The key thing to remember here is that you measure an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Special teams play is obviously critically important for field position as well. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — it all counts.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2017 was the 29.6 yard line.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 32.6 26.1  6.5
(Road) 29.4 30.6 -1.2
Total 31.0 28.3  2.7

The Citadel won the field position battle in five of eight league contests. In a bit of an anomaly, in games played by the Bulldogs, the team with the edge in field position only won twice.

The Bulldogs had similar field position numbers at home in 2016, but were significantly better on the road that season.

A corollary stat to field position is “3-and-outs+”, which is forcing an offense off the field after a possession of three plays or less that does not result in a score. Last season, The Citadel’s offense had a “3-and-outs+” rate of 27.5%, while the Bulldogs’ opponents had a rate of 35.2%. That 7.7% differential was excellent.

In 2017, however, The Citadel had a negative differential in 3-and-outs+, with an offensive rate of 34.4% and a defensive rate of 31.9%. (For anyone interested, this year I have included a tab on the spreadsheet breaking down the game-by-game numbers in this category.)

The Citadel’s net punting average in SoCon play was 35.1; the league average was 36.4. The Bulldogs were slightly below league average in yards per punt return, and slightly above average in yards per kick return.

On kickoffs, The Citadel had a touchback rate of 46.7%, well above the conference average (28.8%) and second in the league, behind only East Tennessee State (which had a very impressive touchback rate of 72.7%).

Stanford (+9.1) and Alabama ranked 1-2 in field position margin for FBS. Kansas, with a FP margin of -9.2, was far and away the worst FBS team in the category.

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 2017 was 40.3%; the median was 41.8%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 37.77% 38.62% -0.85%
(Road) 40.63% 50.00% -9.37%
Total 39.03% 43.27% -4.24%

The Citadel split the efficiency battle in league games, coming out ahead four times, but falling short by a big margin in two of the other four games.

For a few more details, see the tab on the spreadsheet.

Last season, The Citadel’s offense had a success rate in league play of 45.4%, while the defense was also better in the category (39.9%).

The nature of the Bulldogs’ offense is such that Success Rate is particularly important. The Citadel has to remain “on schedule”, and consistently staying in good down-and-distance situations is paramount.

In FBS, Oklahoma led all teams in offensive Success Rate, at 53.2%. Army ranked second, followed by Ohio State, UCF, and Washington. Navy was 10th, Clemson 16th, Alabama 17th, and South Carolina 65th.

As for the remaining triple option teams, Air Force was 27th, Georgia Tech was 45th, New Mexico was 98th, and Georgia Southern was 119th. UTEP was last nationally, with an offensive Success Rate of only 32.7%.

Michigan had the top defensive Success Rate in FBS, at 30.6%. The top 5 also included Clemson, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, and Auburn. Others of note: Alabama was 7th, Georgia 11th, Notre Dame 18th, South Carolina 59th, and East Carolina last (with a defensive Success Rate of 50.6%).

Explosiveness

As was the case last year, I think an explanation of “IsoPPP” is necessary. Again, from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly:

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

The Citadel will never be a national leader in “Explosiveness”, due to the nature of its offense. That isn’t to say big plays aren’t a key feature of a successful triple option attack, as they certainly are. However, the (hopefully large) number of relatively modest-but-successful plays tends to cancel out those long gainers when the statistic is calculated.

The Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league games. That was also the case last season, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it, at least on offense. Defensively, the Bulldogs allowed too many big plays on the road, and that is reflected in the numbers.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 1.04 1.05 -0.02
(Road) 1.06 1.44 -0.38
Total 1.05 1.24 -0.19

The FBS national average for Explosiveness was 1.17. Memphis led the division in offensive IsoPPP, at 1.48, just ahead of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Mississippi was 4th, and UCF 5th.

This is just the umpteenth example of how amazing Oklahoma’s offense was last season. Finishing 1st in Success Rate and 2nd in Explosiveness is just an incredible statistical combination.

The triple option teams were all below average in IsoPPP, with the exception of New Mexico (53rd overall). Georgia Southern ranked last (0.93), just behind Army. Given that the Black Knights won 10 games last season, I don’t think Jeff Monken is too worried about his squad’s offensive IsoPPP numbers.

Washington was the national FBS standard-bearer for defensive IsoPPP (0.93). The rest of the top 5: Fresno State, Clemson, Michigan State, and Wyoming. Alabama was 8th and South Carolina was 19th (a key factor in the Gamecocks’ improved record last year).

The bottom two teams in defensive IsoPPP were Georgia Southern and Air Force, with the Falcons trailing the field (1.46).

Georgia Southern was last in offensive IsoPPP, and next-to-last in defensive IsoPPP. In related news, it was a tough year in Statesboro.

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. It’s a supersized version of the “Red Zone”, with the theory being that the true scoring territory on the field begins at the +40.

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

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 2.36 5.33 -2.97
(Road) 3.63 5.76 -2.13
Total 2.95 5.59 -2.64

This is beyond ugly. The Citadel’s opponents had the edge in this category in seven of eight games, with the exception being Wofford.

Yes, even VMI, which scored just three points against the Bulldogs, did better in finishing drives. Of course, one reason for that was the Keydets had only one such drive during the game, scoring those three points on it.

The Citadel, meanwhile, averaged 1.4 points per drive inside the 40 against VMI.

The Bulldogs’ offense actually had one more opportunity inside the 40 in conference play last season than it did in 2016. However, it averaged 4.53 points per such drive in 2016, as opposed to a measly 2.95 points in 2017, a difference of 1.58 points per drive.

That’s an enormous differential. If you extrapolate those numbers, The Citadel’s offense scored eight more points per game in “inside the 40” situations in 2016 than it did last year. That is a huge difference.

The defense also did not fare as well last year in preventing opponents from finishing drives with points. The point differential from 2016 to 2017 for the Bulldogs’ D was about four points per contest inside the 40.

In 2016, The Citadel had a scoring margin per game in conference play of 11.1. In 2017, that number was -6.6, for a differential of 17.7 points.

The difference in the “finishing drives” category alone amounted to 12 points per league contest.

The trouble the Bulldogs had in plus territory, both offensively and defensively, wasn’t the only thing (in terms of quality of play) that separated The Citadel’s last two seasons. It was a major factor, however.

Florida Atlantic led the nation in finishing drives (offense) in 2017, with a stellar 5.5 points per trip inside the 40-yard-line. Lane Kiffin leaned on running back Devin Singletary to carry the freight in scoring territory, and the sophomore delivered, leading FBS in rushing touchdowns with 32 while rushing for 1,920 yards.

The team with the best defense inside the 40 was Troy, which allowed only 3.13 points per drive in those situations.

Ohio State ranked first in finishing drives margin (combining offense and defensive numbers), at +1.8 points per drive inside the 40. Wisconsin was 2nd, followed by Washington and Alabama.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Kent State, which had the worst finishing drives margin in FBS (-1.88). Also in the bottom five: San Jose State, UTEP, Tennessee, and Oregon State.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 10 6 -4
(Road) 2 6 4
Total 12 6 0

Those home turnovers were decidedly unpleasant. More than a few of them happened when it looked like the Bulldogs were about to score.

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

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 9.74 6.04 -3.7
(Road) 3.54 4.24  0.7
Total 13.28 10.28 -3.0

The expected turnovers statistic is based on A) the idea that recovering fumbles is a 50-50 proposition, and B) 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 would likely be a pick.

The “passes defensed” interception rate is calculated at 22%.

Basically, the Bulldogs committed too many turnovers, and were a little lucky to finish with a break-even mark in turnover margin.

Some teams in FBS were a lot luckier, however. Stanford had a -3.8 expected turnover margin, but actually finished with a turnover margin of +16. Other squads that had good fortune in this area: Purdue, Iowa State, Wyoming, Alabama, and Louisiana Tech.

On the other hand, Marshall won eight times last season (including a bowl game) despite a -8 turnover margin, when the expected turnover margin for the Thundering Herd was actually +1.9.

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

  • at East Tennessee State: 1-4, with Bulldogs dominating TOP but not taking the lead (thanks to miscues) until the fourth quarter
  • at Samford: 2-3, but never in the game; SU’s combined offensive Success Rate/Explosiveness was quite decisive
  • Mercer: 1-4, but the advanced stats were all close except for Finishing Drives
  • Wofford: 2-2-1, and the game could have gone either way
  • at Chattanooga: 1-4, with some very close numbers; three UTC turnovers outweighed a sizable field position edge for the Mocs
  • VMI: 4-1, a frustrating game for the Bulldogs in some ways, but still never really in doubt after the first quarter
  • Western Carolina: 1-4, a contest defined by multiple turnovers by the Bulldogs in the Red Zone
  • at Furman: 0-4-1, the sole highlight being that The Citadel committed no turnovers

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

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.95 4.75 1.20
(Road) 5.70 7.40 -1.70
Total 5.83 6.06 -0.23

Not on the spreadsheet, but worth mentioning:

  • 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
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.83 yards on first down in 2017, including 5.39 yards per rush on first down and 7.76 yards per pass attempt on first down

The Bulldogs were better on first down pass attempts in 2017 than the year before, but not really good enough. In a “standard down” situation, a triple option team needs to be considerably better. I would hazard a guess that averaging at least nine yards per pass attempt on first down should be the goal.

The decline in rushing yardage per first down play is also something that has to be reversed for the 2018 campaign.

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

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.48 9.10 3.62
(Road) 6.48 7.19 0.71
Total 5.98 7.62 1.64

That isn’t bad, but not quite as good as last season, when the margin was 2.49.

In FBS, the top three offensive teams in this category were all triple option outfits — Army, Navy, and Georgia Tech. The Citadel would have slotted in nicely behind them in this category, as the 3rd-ranked Yellow Jackets had a need-to-gain average on 3rd down of 5.97.

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) 47 23 25.71%
(Road) 58 32 33.33%
Total 105 55 30.00%

In 2016, The Citadel ran the ball 75.6% of the time on “passing downs”. Last season, that number declined to 65.6%, a full ten percentage points. The success rate also declined, perhaps not surprisingly.

The Bulldogs were only successful 18.2% of the time when throwing (or attempting to throw) on passing downs. More than fourth-fifths of the time, a pass play in that situation either resulted in an incomplete pass, a sack, or a completion that did not gain The Citadel a first down (or set up 3rd-and-short after a 2nd down play).

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 36 55 26.37%
(Road) 18 45 31.75%
Total 54 100 28.57%

The Citadel’s opponents were a little more successful throwing the ball on passing downs, but not by a huge margin. Only 26 of 100 pass attempts (which include sacks) against the Bulldogs’ D on passing downs resulted in successful plays.

No matter how you slice it (and when it comes to football statistics, there are a lot of different ways to use a knife), The Citadel had a somewhat disappointing gridiron campaign in 2017. Some of the improvements necessary to ensure a more successful 2018 are fairly obvious. Others are perhaps a bit more obscure.

Regardless, we’re all ready to see how the team fares this year — as we are every year, stats or no stats.