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

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

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

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

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

– Preseason rankings and ratings

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

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

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

We start with the opener.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a few more weeks to go…

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

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

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

My focus in this post will be on the following:

  • down-and-distance run/pass tendencies (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • yards per play numbers (offense and defense, rushing and passing)
  • certain defensive passing stats (including sacks, hurries, and passes defensed)
  • success in the “red zone” (defined as scoring or preventing touchdowns)
  • plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more (“big” plays)
  • fourth-down decision-making (for The Citadel and its opponents)
  • situational punting (i.e. punting from inside the opponents’ 40-yard line)
  • the coin toss (of course)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If someone wants to look at the 2015 stats as well, here is last year’s spreadsheet: Link

Some definitions:

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

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2016. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2015, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2014 (which will be in brackets).

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

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 86.0% (89.1%) [88.9%]

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

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

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

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

It should be noted that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. Of course, The Citadel’s offense only suffered one sack all season in league play (at VMI, for six yards).

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

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

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

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

There was quite a bit of variance in these numbers.

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

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

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon action: 75.4 plays per game, 11.0 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon action: 72.1 plays per game, 11.4 possessions per game

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

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game. I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team does not attempt to move the ball forward (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: while NCAA statistical records count sack yardage against rushing totals, the NFL considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost. I take the NFL’s position on this, so all conference statistics included in this post count sack yardage against passing stats.

  • The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon games: 5.56 yards per play, including 5.35 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s offense in 2016 in SoCon games: 5.58 yards per play, including 5.28 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt

The numbers were not as good as the season before, though they do match up well with the 2014 season. While the rushing yards per play may have been down, that wasn’t really the issue.

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

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

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

In this post, I’m also going to take a look at The Citadel’s per-play stats from a national perspective (all of FCS, and including all games, not just conference play). I’ll throw in some statistics from a few FBS teams as well (concentrating on teams of local interest and schools that run the triple option).

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

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

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

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

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

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 7.02 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 4.94 yards per play, including 4.61 yards per rush and 5.3 yards per pass attempt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just for clarification, I am defining “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bumbling rumbling stumbling fumbling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about 4th down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two seasons ago, The Citadel began what appeared to be a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

Last year, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games, going 3-1 both at home and on the road, a tribute to a consistent skill set. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015.

The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss. I’m not sure what to make of that.

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

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

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

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

2016 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. North Greenville

The Citadel at North Greenville, to be played to be played at Younts Stadium in Tigerville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 7:00 pm ET on Thursday, October 6. The game will not be televised.

The game will be streamed by the North Greenville Sports Network. Cole Bryson will handle play-by-play, with Brad McGuffin supplying 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, is the flagship station. 

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

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 10/4 press conference, including comments from Joe Crochet and Reggie Williams

FCS Coaches’ Poll

– A hurricane puts The Citadel on the road

– Local talent fuels North Greenville

I had planned on writing most of this preview on Thursday night, and had blocked off time on my schedule to do so. Alas, Hurricane Matthew had other ideas.

I just hope the team is more prepared to play the game than I was to write about it…

At times on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure the game would even happen. It will, though, two days early and in another location, a first-time venue for The Citadel’s football program. Repercussions will last for a while:

Ironically, North Greenville was scheduled largely so the Bulldogs would have a fifth home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium this season. With the game now moved to North Greenville’s Younts Stadium, The Citadel will have only four regular-season home games.

That loss of revenue, and the added expense of an extra road trip, means The Citadel’s budget will take a hit this year.

“We are going to incur additional expenses that were not budgeted for,” said [The Citadel’s director of athletics, Jim Senter]. “When we get to the end of the year, we hope we can absorb that. This is not like a normal (road) game for one night. Because of the emergency situation, we are going to have additional expenses related to busing, lodging and meals. There will be an additional cost for us.”

As for how tickets will be handled:

Tickets purchased for the game will be honored Thursday night at North Greenville. Fans unable to attend will have their ticket honored with an additional ticket in general admission seating at The Citadel’s home game against ETSU on Oct. 29 or can donate their ticket to the Junior Bulldog program, which benefits orphanages and foster families in the Lowcountry.

When was the last time The Citadel’s football team played a road game against a team that was not in Division I? I’m not entirely sure, but I believe the answer to that question is 1977, when the Bulldogs played at Delaware, which at that time was in Division II. The Citadel also traveled to face the Blue Hens in 1974.

The Citadel played three other road games in the 1970s against teams that are now D-1 but were not at that time: in 1970 against Arkansas State (then in the NCAA’s College Division); in 1971 versus Bucknell (also in the NCAA’s College Division); and in 1973 against Illinois State (a D-2 school that year).

Prior to 1970, there are several instances of The Citadel playing schools away from home that were not Division I at the time, but which are now. That was even the case in the post-war period.

Some of these matchups were neutral-site affairs, including games at the Orangeburg County Fair against Wofford (the last of which took place in 1959). The Citadel also played Presbyterian in Savannah in 1963.

The last time The Citadel played a road game against a school that was not then and is not now a current D-1 member (other than those institutions that dropped football)? Well, it’s possible that there hasn’t been such a game.

In researching this topic, I discovered that several games listed in the record book as road contests, notably a series of pre-World War II matchups with Newberry, were actually played at Hampton Park. The exception was a 1921 contest played in Florence (a game that ended in a 7-7 tie).

The record book also lists the 1948 games against Presbyterian and Newberry as having been road games, when in fact both games were played at College Park. That facility was used because the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium was not ready to open at the beginning of the season. (Incidentally, the cost of the brand-new Johnson Hagood Stadium in 1948? $600,000.)

Thus, if North Greenville never moves up to Division I, this contest will wind up being a decided anomaly.

On October 14, 1891, at the fourth annual meeting of the North Greenville Baptist Association, a momentous decision was made. A committee of nine men was appointed to determine the best location for establishing a high school in the northern region of Greenville County…

…The work of the committee led to the establishment of what is now North Greenville University. Benjamin F. Neves offered ten acres of beautiful rolling land midway between Glassy Mountain to the north and Paris Mountain to the south. By 1892 the first building was completed and ready for occupancy, and North Greenville High School began with the arrival of the first students on January 16, 1893.

The State of South Carolina chartered the institution as North Greenville High School in 1904. The next year the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention assumed control of the school as part of its Mountain Mission School System, a relationship that lasted 25 years. In 1929, the North Greenville Baptist Association again accepted responsibility for the school which had been renamed “North Greenville Baptist Academy” in 1915.

North Greenville became a junior college in 1934; it was renamed North Greenville Junior College in 1950 (which was shortened to North Greenville College in 1972). High school courses were discontinued in 1959.

The school began offering baccalaureate degrees in 1992, and attained university status in 2006. North Greenville retains an affiliation with the South Carolina Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention.

North Greenville fielded its first football team in 1994. It had its first winning season in 1996 (7-3), though consistent gridiron success has been difficult to come by. The program went 0-10 in both 2000 and 2001, but under Mike Taylor finished 10-2 in 2006, its best season by winning percentage to date.

Jamey Chadwell was at NGU for three seasons. In his third year at NGU (2011) he led the team to an 11-3 record, the most wins in school history.

After that season, Chadwell made a somewhat curious move to Delta State for a year before taking over at Charleston Southern in 2013. He was succeeded at North Greenville by Carroll McCray, who helmed the program for one year before leaving for his alma mater, Gardner-Webb. McCray’s replacement at NGU was Jeff Farrington.

Jeff Farrington is now in his fourth season as the head coach of North Greenville. He is also a 1982 graduate of The Citadel.

I was a walk-on at The Citadel, a slow, splitback veer quarterback who couldn’t throw and didn’t have a whole lot of people who wanted me to play football. But The Citadel gave me a chance, and I’m forever grateful. It was a great experience, and I got on the field as a defensive back my last two years.

I was a guy they couldn’t run off, and Art Baker and his staff, guys like Cal McCombs, had a really good influence on me. It was a special place and always has been.

Farrington has been an assistant coach at a wide variety of schools, including several in the Southern Conference. He was a graduate assistant at The Citadel for one year, spent five seasons at East Tennessee State, and was on Bobby Lamb’s staff for nine years at Furman.

Before taking the head coaching job at North Greenville in 2013, he had been the defensive coordinator at VMI. Farrington has also coached at Florida State, East Carolina, Lenoir-Rhyne, West Georgia, and Presbyterian. He assisted Lamb in starting the football program at Mercer, too.

Farrington’s staff has plenty of SoCon connections as well. Defensive coordinator Greg Harris is a VMI graduate. Offensive line coach Nic Cardwell is an Appalachian State alumnus, while defensive backs coach Maurice Duncan played for Furman.

Kicking coach Bob Price is an App State grad who spent 16 years as an assistant coach at Furman. Graduate assistant Jeff Ashley played for Wofford.

North Greenville has been an independent in football for several years (the school competes in Conference Carolinas in its other sports). However, that will change in 2018, when the school becomes an affiliate member (football-only) of the Gulf South Conference.

Members of the Gulf South in football: North Alabama, Valdosta State, West Georgia, West Alabama, Florida Tech, Delta State, West Florida, Mississippi College, and Shorter.

This will only be the second time North Greenville has hosted an FCS school (Charleston Southern made the trip in 2007), but NGU has a lot of experience facing D-1 competition.

One thing that is rather clear when a check of the records is made: North Greenville has been very competitive in most of those matchups.

In fact, the Crusaders have four victories over FCS foes, including a 37-24 win over VMI in 2013, Jeff Farrington’s first season in charge of the program. North Greenville has also beaten Presbyterian (in 2010), Jacksonville, and Austin Peay (with both of those victories coming in 2006).

Some of the losses are almost (if not just) as impressive. Wofford outlasted NGU 42-27 in 2014; Charleston Southern won 28-14 in 2013 and 41-31 in 2010; Presbyterian survived 22-15 in 2008. That aforementioned home game against CSU in 2007 resulted in a 46-33 win for the Buccaneers.

North Greenville isn’t going to be intimidated by playing an FCS squad. If The Citadel isn’t ready to play on Thursday night, the Bulldogs could get embarrassed.

NGU opened the season in front of 3,822 fans with a 24-23 home win over future conference foe West Alabama. The Crusaders were up 10-0, but found themselves behind 23-17 late in the fourth quarter. A touchdown and subsequent PAT with 1:40 remaining gave North Greenville the lead for good.

North Greenville then traveled to Lenoir-Rhyne and crushed the Bears, 45-0. Rochar Witherspoon returned the opening kickoff for a TD, and the Crusaders never let up. Starting quarterback Will Hunter completed 9 of his first 10 passes, and NGU rushed for 179 yards and four touchdowns.

Newberry would hand NGU its first loss of the season, a 29-28 setback in Tigerville before 2,928 spectators. The Crusaders trailed 22-10 before mounting a comeback that saw them take the lead with less than five minutes remaining. However, Newberry proceeded to drive the length of the field and scored the winning touchdown/PAT with just 1:09 to play.

North Greenville fell to 2-2 after a 49-35 loss at UNC-Pembroke. The Crusaders trailed 28-7 at halftime after allowing 251 passing yards in the first two quarters. The Braves kept NGU at bay during the second half, leading by at least 14 points throughout the contest.

On Saturday, the Crusaders hammered Mars Hill at Younts Stadium, 56-21, delighting most of the 2,056 fans in attendance. A blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for a TD gave NGU plenty of momentum early in the game, as North Greenville scored the game’s first 21 points. The Crusaders added a touchdown in the second quarter and three more TDs in the third, rolling up 518 yards of total offense in the process.

Some quick team statistics of note for North Greenville:

NGU Opponents
Points/game 37.6 24.4
Total yards rushing 1213 767
Rush attempts 200 180
Yards/rush 6.1 4.3
Rush TDs 16 9
Total yards passing 957 1200
Completion % 54.2 (144 attempts) 63.6 (187 attempts)
Yards/pass attempt 6.6 6.4
Interceptions 1 5
Pass TDs 7 8
Total offense 2170 1967
Offensive Plays 344 367
Yards/play 6.3 5.4
Fumbles/Lost 7/3 8/3
Penalties/game 9 9
Pen yds/game 81.6 71.6
TOP/game 28:59:00 31:00:00
3rd-down conversion % 40.00 38.96
Red Zone TD% 13-14 (93%) 13-17 (76%)

Things that jump out when looking at those stats:

  • Scoring touchdowns on 13 of 14 trips into the red zone is very impressive
  • NGU passes on 42% of its plays from scrimmage
  • Passing yardage accounts for 44% of the Crusaders’ total offense
  • North Greenville has only committed four turnovers in five games
  • NGU has been heavily penalized — and so has its opponents
  • The difference in rush yards per play from an offensive and defensive perspective is noteworthy

Starting quarterback Will Hunter (6’1″, 190 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore from Lexington who operates the Crusaders’ zone-read offense out of the shotgun.

For the season, Hunter is completing 54.1% of his passes, averaging 6.56 yards per attempt, with six TD tosses against only one interception. Hunter’s father Tripp is a graduate of The Citadel (like Jeff Farrington, he is an ’82 grad).

NGU has three players who share most of the load in terms of rushing attempts. Ashton Heard (5’9″, 180 lbs.) is a native of Abbeville who rushed for 1,136 yards last season, averaging 5.7 yards per carry.

Simeon Byrd (5’10”, 205 lbs.), who went to Spartanburg High School, has 17 career touchdowns. While Heard and Byrd are seniors, Tracy Scott (6’0″, 195 lbs.) is a redshirt freshman from Greenville who currently leads the team in rushing, and is averaging  7.5 yards per carry. Scott started in the Crusaders’ most recent game, against Mars Hill.

Twelve different players have receptions for the Crusaders. The three leading receivers are a varied lot in terms of size.

Mason Sanders (6’6″, 230 lbs.) is a junior from Boiling Springs who is tied for the team lead in receptions (19). Sanders, who leads the team with 4 TD catches, is joined in the starting lineup by Javon Smith (5’9″, 170 lbs.) and Demajiay Rooks (5’10”, 160 lbs.).

Smith is a junior from Blythewood with 19 catches so far this season, while Rooks is a sophomore from Woodruff with 12 receptions, including a team long of 51 yards. Rooks had a kickoff return for a touchdown last season for the Crusaders, so he’s more than capable of making a big play.

Starting tight end Bobby Foos (6’2″, 225 lbs.) doubles as the team’s punter. The product of Chesnee High School has a touchdown reception this year for NGU.

The starters on North Greenville’s offensive line average 6’4″, 280 lbs. Tackle Casey Stewart (6’2″, 280 lbs.) is a Pickens resident who had 35 “knockdown” blocks last season.

Linebacker Sam Houston (6’1″, 220 lbs.) is an Easley native who is far and away the Crusaders’ leader in tackles this season. He is also the career tackles leader for North Greenville.

In a way, it is a shame that he didn’t attend Sam Houston State. I really hope his nickname is “Bearkat”.

Daulton Pilgrim (6’0″, 190 lbs.) is a junior linebacker who went to Daniel High School. He is second on the team in tackles.

Desmond Williams (6’2″, 255 lbs.) is a redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Piedmont. Williams already has two blocked kicks this year.

Another defensive lineman, Anthony Blair (6’3″, 245 lbs.) is the team’s designated sack artist; the junior from Georgetown has 2.5 sacks this year. He had 7.5 sacks in 2014.

Nigel Gay (5’9″, 160 lbs.) is a DB from Newnan, Georgia (not South Carolina!) and has two interceptions so far this season. The senior is also averaging an impressive 8.3 yards per punt return, something to watch on Thursday night.

Earlier, I mentioned that Rochar Witherspoon (5’8″, 160 lbs.) returned a kickoff for a TD against Lenoir-Rhyne. Witherspoon (from Manning) is also a starting defensive back for the Crusaders.

Placekicker Matt Gravely (6’2″, 180 lbs.) is a freshman from Pickens who is 4 for 5 on field goal attempts this season (long of 47 yards). He is 24 for 24 on PATs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Thursday in Tigerville, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny with a high of 75 degrees. There is a 20% chance of rain on Thursday night, with a low of 62 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 28.5-point favorite over North Greenville, with an over/under of 49.5. However, that line was set before the game was moved to North Greenville.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is an 18.5-point favorite over Mercer; Samford is a 7.5-point favorite at Furman; VMI is a 12.5-point favorite versus East Tennessee State; and Wofford is an 8.5-point favorite at Western Carolina.

Gardner-Webb is a 5.5-point favorite over Presbyterian this week in Boiling Springs. North Carolina is a 2-point favorite at home over Virginia Tech.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 9th in FCS. North Greenville is 72nd among Division II squads.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 98% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 41-10.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (4th), Samford (18th), Wofford (26th), Mercer (42nd), Furman (60th), Western Carolina (61st), Gardner-Webb (66th), VMI (67th), East Tennessee State (86th).

– North Greenville’s roster is overwhelming made up of South Carolina natives (as you may have guessed while reading the section on individual players), with 78 Crusaders hailing from the Palmetto State. Other states represented on NGU’s roster: Georgia (9), Florida (3), North Carolina (2), and Ohio (1).

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– Triple option oddity no more: through three games this season, more Bulldogs had caught passes (eight) than had rushing attempts (seven). However, the number of rushers has finally exceeded the number of pass-catchers, as Evan McField, Grant Drakeford, and Jonathan Dorogy all had rushing attempts on Saturday against Western Carolina.

– North Greenville has had one player make the NFL: Freddie Martino, a wide receiver who has been on practice squads (and occasionally on active rosters) for the Falcons, Eagles, and Buccaneers. He is currently on Tampa Bay’s active roster.

– Joseph Randolph II, a freshman from Jefferson, Georgia, is listed on The Citadel’s two-deep for this week. It is the first time he has appeared on the Bulldogs’ depth chart. Randolph is a 6’3″, 255 lb. defensive tackle.

I am worried about this game, for several reasons. One, North Greenville appears to be a very solid D-2 team, with a lot of quality players who can make a difference on any given night.

Then there is the element of the unknown. How will the Bulldogs react to having to play two days early? How will they perform away from home after anticipating playing a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium?

The Citadel has not played at home since September 10, against Furman. Sure, there was a bye week mixed in between road games, but that’s a long wait for a home game. Then not to have it after all — well, that makes it tougher.

I’m not too concerned about the Bulldogs looking ahead to the Chattanooga game. I’m just wondering about the focus for this game in general.

We’ll see. Dee Delaney seems to have the right mindset, at any rate.

It would not be surprising if a significant number of Bulldog supporters make an appearance at Younts Stadium on Thursday night. I have a feeling that a lot of light blue and white will be on hand, and that’s good.

This game is sort of a mini-bonus for some of The Citadel’s fans in the Upstate. Perhaps a few cadets will make it to the game, too.

Let’s get to 5-0.

A quick look at The Citadel’s future football schedules

One of the many curious things about college football is that fans often are just as interested (if not more interested) in what will happen in the future than what is happening right now.  I’m talking mostly about recruiting and scheduling, of course.

With this post, I’m going to wildly speculate on potential scheduling options for The Citadel.  This is something Jeff Hartsell briefly mentioned Tuesday.  The Citadel will play eight Southern Conference games each season.  In 2011 and 2012, that means the Bulldogs will play three non-conference games (11-game regular season).  In 2013 and 2014, the calendar will allow for a 12-game regular season for FCS schools, meaning The Citadel can play four non-conference games.

Each year one of The Citadel’s non-conference games has to be a road “guarantee” game against a BCS opponent, for budgetary reasons.  Also returning to the Bulldogs’ schedule in 2011 is VMI.  The battle for the coveted Silver Shako will resume at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with the teams alternating home-and-home for six years. It is my understanding that those years are consecutive, although I haven’t been able to confirm that yet.

Another non-conference game each season will take place against a non-conference opponent that won’t demand a return trip — in other words, teams like Chowan and Webber International (or more preferably, Presbyterian and Newberry).  I’ll call this game the Designated Home Opener, or DHO.

The 2011 non-conference schedule will feature VMI (home), South Carolina (away), and a DHO to be determined (home).

The 2012 non-conference schedule will feature VMI (away), North Carolina State (away), and a DHO to be determined (home).  In that season, the Bulldogs will only play five games at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Starting in 2013, things get a little interesting.  Again, assuming the VMI series is for six consecutive years (assumptions always being dangerous), The Citadel’s non-league slate would feature VMI (home), Clemson (away), a DHO (home), and another team to be determined.

The 2014 season would include a road game against VMI, a DHO, and two games to be determined (with one of them definitely having to be a guarantee game).

That leaves Larry Leckonby with important decisions to make about scheduling in 2013 and 2014.  Do you add a second BCS guarantee game in those seasons?  Or do you add a second DHO-type team?

There is another possibility, one that would be very popular with alumni, and that is to schedule a game against Army or Navy (or Air Force, I suppose, although I don’t think there is nearly as much interest in that potential matchup).

A quick scan at future schedules for Army and Navy shows that there is a spot possibly available for an FCS opponent in 2013 for Army and 2014 for Navy (in 2014, Army has scheduled Fordham, which would have been a tough ticket seven decades ago; Navy is playing Delaware in 2013).  Of course, there is a chance that none of the academies would be interested in playing The Citadel anyway.

Scheduling a service academy or a second BCS school would be more problematic in 2014, as the VMI game would be played on the road that year.  I don’t know that Leckonby wants to put the team in position to play only five home games and seven road contests, with two of those being against FBS opponents (and that’s assuming he can find two FBS opponents).

One of the things that will be a factor is attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  If The Citadel continues to have disappointing numbers at the gate, Leckonby may be more likely to eschew a possible sixth (or seventh) home game to grab a more lucrative road guarantee.

Another possibility would be a series like the one The Citadel had with Princeton, a two-game home-and-home (in 2013-2014) against an FCS school from outside the SoCon.   That seems a less likely option to me, but you never know.

We’ll see what happens.  All of the above is mostly uninformed guesswork by yours truly, of course, and should be taken with a grain of salt, assuming that it even deserves the grain.

Southern Conference tourney time

Last year, I wrote about The Citadel’s abysmal record in the Southern Conference tournament.  The next few paragraphs are an updated version of that piece.  Feel free to ignore them if you have a weak stomach.  The preview for this year’s tournament (from The Citadel’s perspective) follows the history lesson.

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is a dispute as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (later a member of the SEC  — seriously!), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry (for those unfamiliar with Newberry, it’s a tiny school located in central South Carolina).  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is several years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 10-56 or 10-57.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-56 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-56 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 15% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.

Tangent:  The single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 in a game Marshall won by 43 points.  The next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point.  Karma.

Those long losing streaks didn’t occur in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.

The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House and was the final victory of a 20-win campaign, the school’s first.

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

Twenty-one different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

Ed Conroy is 0-3 in the SoCon tourney as head coach of The Citadel (he was also 0-4 as a player).  If The Citadel were to win its conference tournament opener against Samford, and then lose the next day to Appalachian State, Conroy’s record would improve to 1-4.  That would be the second-highest winning percentage in the tournament for a Bulldog coach since the days of Norm Sloan.

Sloan was 2-4 in the tourney; his successor, Mel Thompson, won his first tournament game as head coach.  He would never win another, finishing with a record of 1-6.  Dick Campbell was 0-4.  George Hill was 0-3.  Les Robinson was 3-10 (a record which by winning percentage leads all of the post-Sloan coaches).  Randy Nesbit was 0-7.  Pat Dennis was 3-14.

(By the way, the best record for a Bulldog coach in SoCon tourney play is that of Bo Sherman, who went 1-1 in 1943, his lone season in charge.  Sherman’s Bulldogs defeated South Carolina before losing to Duke.)

The Citadel’s record against current SoCon teams in the tournament:  Furman 2-5, UT-Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, Samford 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

Last season The Citadel was flying high, having won 20 games for only the second time ever, and had high hopes entering the tournament.  Those hopes came crashing down against Samford, a team The Citadel had defeated by 25 points during the regular season.  Samford’s patient, Princeton-style offense scored 76 points on only 55 possessions, as the Birmingham Bulldogs got off to a great start and never really let The Citadel into the game.  It was a very disappointing finish to an otherwise outstanding season.

This season The Citadel appeared on the verge of making a nice run into the SoCon tourney, having reeled off five straight victories, and needing just one more to clinch a winning season, both overall and in  league play.  It didn’t happen, though, as the Bulldogs lost their last three games. The loss at Furman, in particular, was very poor.  The Citadel is now 15-15 for this year’s campaign, and would have to win at least two games in the tourney to garner its first back-to-back winning campaigns since 1980.

Instead of a bye into the quarterfinals, The Citadel finds itself playing in the first round on Friday, finishing as the 4th seed in the South division.  Friday’s opponent, Samford, struggled to an 11-19 record (5-13 SoCon) and is the 5th seed from the North division.  The winner will play Appalachian State, which finished first in the North, on Saturday night.

The two teams met twice during the regular season, with The Citadel winning both games.  The first game, played in Birmingham on January 16, was the definition of slow tempo, with The Citadel’s patient motion offense (61.4 possessions per game, 8th slowest nationally) outlasting Samford’s Princeton-style attack (58.1 possessions per game, slowest in the country).

The cadets had but 51 possessions in the contest, and made just enough of them count to prevail 51-50.  Cameron Wells had 19 points, while Austin Dahn had 17 (making 4 three-pointers).  For Samford, Bryan Friday and Andy King combined for 28 points.  The Citadel’s edge on the boards (26-20) proved critical.

In the rematch in Charleston, Samford led by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to play but was unable to hold on, thanks to a fine outside shooting performance in the second half by The Citadel.  Freshman Ben Cherry had his best game of the season with 3 three-pointers, including two big shots late in the game.

Austin Dahn, who had made 4 three-pointers in the first meeting, hit four more in the second game to finish with 15 points and offset a poor shooting night for Wells (2-10 FG).  Harrison DuPont added 13 points and 7 rebounds, good enough to survive an excellent game by Samford’s Josh Davis (24 points on only 11 FG attempts).  The Citadel had 54 possessions in that game.

For The Citadel, the key to beating Samford for a third time this season is confidence. Last year in the tournament game, Samford ran out to an early lead.  I think The Citadel’s players got a little nervous, especially because trying to play from behind against a team as patient as Samford can be very frustrating (just like it can be for teams playing The Citadel).  The fact that the game was an elimination game in tournament play just exacerbated the tension.

It cannot help that The Citadel has no history of success in the SoCon tourney on which to build.  That is why I think it is important for the Bulldogs to win this game. Even if The Citadel does not go on to win the tournament (winning four games in four days is extremely unlikely), enjoying just a taste of victory in the tourney may go a long way next season, when The Citadel figures to field a squad capable of contending for the SoCon title.  This current crop of players needs to know it can win games in the tournament.

One thing working in The Citadel’s favor is that while it has lost three straight games, so has Samford.  Also, while Cameron Wells did not shoot well in the latter part of the season, he was 10-16 from the field in the season finale against Wofford.  That bodes well for the Bulldogs, which will need point production from Wells in the tournament.

The Citadel needs to start well, maintain its confidence, and not spend the whole night in “here we go again” mode.

If the Bulldogs advance, the next opponent would be Appalachian State, a team The Citadel defeated 62-58 in Boone early in the season.  Appy star Donald Sims scored 22 points, but got no help from his teammates, none of whom scored more than 7 points, while Wells had 21 and Dahn 14 for the Bulldogs.  Since then, the Mountaineers have fashioned an excellent season, and if not for the draw would be my pick to win the league tournament.

Wofford won the regular season and has the best draw, and I suppose should be the favorite, but for some reason I’m not quite convinced the Terriers have what it takes to win three straight games in three days.

It should be an interesting four days in Charlotte.  It would be nice if The Citadel added to the interest.

Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Presbyterian

This week’s game is something of a blast from the past, at least for older alums and supporters of The Citadel.  Fans under the age of 35 may not realize the lengthy series history between the football programs of The Citadel and PC, though.

Saturday’s game will be the 61st meeting between the two schools, with The Citadel having won 48 of those previous 60 games (with one tie).  The series was played annually from 1921 to 1960, except for the three years during World War II when The Citadel did not field a team.

After the 1963 game (which was played in Savannah), there was a break in the series that lasted until 1971.  From that year through 1988 Presbyterian and The Citadel would meet 16 more times (not playing in 1972 and 1976).  Since the 1988 season, however, there has been only one more encounter, a 33-10 victory for the Bulldogs in 1991.

PC has not hosted The Citadel in football since 1950.  Since then, every game has been played at Johnson Hagood Stadium (except for that 1963 game).  The matchups during the 1950s were frequently either Homecoming or Parents’ Day games.  In contrast, the games played in the 1970s and 1980s usually served as the home openers for the Bulldogs.

Speaking of those games during the 1950s, a while back when I was doing some research for a post about The Citadel’s football uniform history, I came across a series of photos taken by Life Magazine that included action and crowd shots from the 1955 Homecoming game at Johnson Hagood between The Citadel and Presbyterian, won by the Bulldogs 14-13.  I posted links to some of the photos in that piece, but I’ll repost a few here for anyone interested:

Picture 1 (Mark Clark in the stands watching the game)
Picture 2 (the team runs out onto the field in what may have been a photo op and not a “real” run-out)
Picture 3 (same as Picture 2; I think the third coach from the left is Al Davis)
Picture 4 (same as Pictures 2 and 3)
Picture 5 (shot of John Sauer during the game; the coach appears to be a bit anxious, despite the snazzy bow tie)
Picture 6 (PC players are wearing the white jerseys)
Picture 7 (The Citadel has the ball, deep in its own territory)
Picture 8 (I love the scoreboard in this picture)

The Citadel is 26-3 at Johnson Hagood Stadium against Presbyterian, including the first victory for the Bulldogs at JHS, which came in 1949.  Despite the lopsided nature of the series in terms of wins and losses, many of the games have been close.  Particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Blue Hose (one of my favorite college nicknames) would make things tough for the Bulldogs.

Under the direction of longtime coach/AD Cally Gault, PC defeated The Citadel in 1971 and 1979 and lost several other tight contests, which included final scores such as 6-0, 13-7, 21-14, 21-16, 14-7, and 15-13.  Back then it seemed every year for The Citadel started off with a narrow home victory over Presbyterian.

It was, at least to me, a rather congenial rivalry.  I remember going to games at Johnson Hagood as a kid and hearing the occasional “Hose ’em!” chant from a boisterous-but-not-particularly-serious PC supporter (often a stray student who had made his way down from Clinton for the game).  The games were generally competitive, if not always of the highest quality.

My personal favorite matchup in the series is the 6-0 Bulldog victory in 1974.  In that game The Citadel scored the game’s only points in the 3rd quarter, after PC fumbled deep in its own territory.  The extra-point attempt following the touchdown nearly decapitated one of the officials standing beneath the goalposts.  I believe Brian Ruff had approximately 500 tackles in the contest.

The series ended as Presbyterian began its transition from an NAIA school to an NCAA Division II program.  Now, of course, PC has moved up into the ranks of the FCS (I-AA), joining the Big South in the process.  It’s a good move for the school and that league.

What it may also mean is that there could be more opportunities in the future for The Citadel and Presbyterian to meet in football.  One of the disadvantages of The Citadel playing a non-Division I school in football is that if the Bulldogs have hopes of making the FCS playoffs, a win over a non-D1 doesn’t count as far as playoff eligibility is concerned.  A team angling for an at-large berth has to win at least 7 games against Division I opponents (either FCS or FBS).

I think this puts PC on the list of schools that The Citadel can play in its “non-return home game”.  In other words, because the Bulldogs will play a “money” game against an FBS squad each season, a matching contest is needed against a school willing to forgo a home-and-home series.

Presbyterian and Charleston Southern both strike me as candidates to feature in that spot on a semi-regular basis (with Newberry’s Division II status being an impediment to scheduling that school).  Essentially the yearly schedule would be eight Southern Conference games, one game against an FBS school (always on the road), one game against the likes of PC or CSU (always at home), and VMI (with that series resuming in 2011).

Presbyterian’s game against The Citadel will be the fourth and final game the Blue Hose will play against a Southern Conference opponent this season.  PC’s remaining seven games will include six Big South league matchups and a contest against first-year football program Old Dominion.

In its first three games PC has only led once, against UT-Chattanooga.  Presbyterian has been outscored by more than 24 points per game and has been dominated statistically across the board, including allowing opponents over 5 yards per rush attempt, part of the reason why opponents are converting 3rd downs against PC at a 60% clip.

Presbyterian averages a relatively meager 5.7 yards per pass attempt, with a completion percentage of only 52.5%.  The Blue Hose are averaging just 2.5 yards per rush.  PC was more competitive in its last outing, when it led UTC briefly in the second quarter before the Mocs gradually pulled away.  In the other two games, Furman pummeled the Blue Hose (Paladin QB Jordan Sorrells was 24-30 passing), while Elon simply routed PC, running 90 plays to Presbyterian’s 46 and controlling the ball for over 38 minutes.

Basically, this is a game The Citadel should win fairly easily.  That doesn’t mean it’s a lock, though.  PC obviously isn’t going to be intimidated playing yet another game against a SoCon opponent, and may have some confidence after not getting blown out by UT-Chattanooga.

It isn’t a game the Bulldogs are likely to overlook, however.  Sure, the “real season” begins next week with the start of the conference campaign, but this is the home opener, and an opportunity to establish a tone for the games to come.  Things I want to see on Saturday night include:

  • The offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage (PC is giving up 5+ yards per rush — enough said)
  • Receivers catching the ball (the number of dropped passes against Princeton was alarming)
  • Sacks by The Citadel’s defensive front seven (no sacks against Princeton)
  • Turnovers created by the Bulldog defense (especially in the first half)
  • A big play by Andre Roberts (it’s time for one, at least if his ankle is okay)

I’m looking forward to watching a game at Johnson Hagood again.  I’ll be interested to see what the attendance is like.  With South Carolina playing earlier in the week on Thursday night, and an instate school as the opponent, along with it being the home opener, there is a chance for a nice crowd.  Of course, figuring out potential attendance is more complicated than that, as I wrote about earlier this summer.

I was glad to see Presbyterian on the schedule when it was released a few months ago.  I hope I will still be glad to have seen PC on the schedule after Saturday night.

Trying to rise above a history of misery

Yes, it’s Southern Conference tourney time.  If you’re a fan of The Citadel, you may want to cover your eyes while reading some of this.  If you’re not, you may want to cover them anyway…

First, the good news.  The Bulldogs rebounded nicely (literally and figuratively) from their loss to Wofford by beating a ragtag Georgia Southern squad 74-53 on Monday night.  The Eagles hung around a little too long for my liking, making two good runs in each half, and were down by just six points with over 13 minutes left in regulation.  In the next seven minutes of the game, however, Georgia Southern had more technical fouls (2) than made field goals (1).  It’s hard to complete a comeback when that happens.

The Citadel thus got a much-needed bye into the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament.  Besides not having to play four games in four days in order to win the tourney, the extra day may also help the Bulldogs in their preparation for the event, as there are some on-court adjustments that need to be made.  Among other things, The Citadel committed 18 turnovers on Monday night, many of them unforced.

Demetrius Nelson and Cameron Wells each had five turnovers, which is too many, but they also combined for 42 points (Nelson had 11 rebounds as well).  John Brown had four, and that’s a bit more worrisome, as he isn’t in a position to handle the ball nearly as often in a scoring or closely guarded position (and thus shouldn’t have as many turnovers).  Brown forced things a bit on offense, particularly in the first half, which was a carryover from the Wofford game on Saturday.

In the Southern Conference tournament, teams are almost certainly going to employ Wofford’s strategy of doubling Nelson repeatedly while giving Brown space on the wing, because Brown is not yet an offensive threat unless he’s making layups or dunks.  How Ed Conroy and company adjust to this will go a long way to determining The Citadel’s tournament fate.

Having said that, it should be noted that despite those 18 turnovers and decent-but-not-great outside shooting, the Bulldogs went on the road and under a good deal of pressure (given the importance of winning the game) defeated a conference opponent by 21 points.  The fact it’s actually possible to be disappointed in some aspects of The Citadel’s play after a result like that speaks volumes about how good this team has been, and the expectations it now has.

Those expectations include making a serious bid at a first-ever Southern Conference tournament title.  Before casting a forward glance towards Chattanooga, however, perhaps it’s best to realize just how arduous a task the Bulldogs face.  When it comes to The Citadel and its history in the Southern Conference tourney, a few paragraphs are in order, because just a few words cannot begin to adequately describe the horror…

One of the more curious things about The Citadel’s wretched history in the SoCon tourney is that there is no firm answer to just how many times the school has lost in the event.  That’s because the league has mutated so many times there is a dispute as to what year the first “official” conference tournament was held.

Before 1920, The Citadel was one of many schools in a rather loose confederation known as the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association.  (The Citadel initially joined in 1909.)  There were about 30 colleges in the SIAA by 1920, including almost every member of the current SEC and about half of the current ACC, along with schools such as Centre, Sewanee (somewhat amusingly, later a member of the SEC), Chattanooga, Wofford, Howard (now called Samford, of course), and Millsaps, just to name a few.  As you might imagine, the large and disparate membership had some disagreements, and was just plain hard to manage, so a number of the schools left to form the Southern Conference in late 1920.

In the spring of 1921, the SIAA sponsored a basketball tournament, which would be the forerunner to all the conference hoops tourneys to follow.  Any southern college or university could travel to Atlanta to play, and fifteen schools did just that.  Kentucky beat Georgia in the final.  The Citadel did not enter the event, but several other small colleges did, including Newberry.  The tournament featured teams from the new Southern Conference, the old SIAA, and squads like Newberry, which wasn’t in either league (it would join the SIAA in 1923).

In 1922 the SIAA held another tournament in Atlanta, this one won by North Carolina, which beat Mercer in the final.  The Citadel entered this time, losing in the first round to Vanderbilt.  The SIAA tournament remained all-comers until 1924, when it was restricted to Southern Conference members.

Some sources suggest that the 1921 tournament is the first “official” Southern Conference tournament, some go with the 1922 event, and others argue for 1924.  From what I can tell, the league itself is a bit wishy-washy on the issue.  On the conference website, it states:

The first Southern Conference Championship was the league basketball tournament held in Atlanta in 1922. The North Carolina Tar Heels won the tournament to become the first recognized league champion in any sport. The Southern Conference Tournament remains the oldest of its kind in college basketball.

That’s great, but the conference’s own record book lists Kentucky as having won the first tournament title in 1921 (on page 113; oddly, that year is excluded from the game-by-game tournament results that begin on page 114).  Of course, the edition of the record book on the conference website is three years old and lists The Citadel as having once lost 37 straight games, which is incorrect, so take it for what you will.

Personally, I think that the idea of having a conference tournament is to determine a league champion, and it stands to reason that such a tournament would only include league members.  So the first “real” Southern Conference tournament, in my opinion, was held in 1924.

There is a point to this, trust me.  The difference between counting the Vanderbilt loss as a SoCon tourney loss and not counting it is the difference between The Citadel’s alltime record in the event being 10-55 or 10-56.  Not that they both aren’t hideous totals, but as of now The Citadel shares the NCAA record for “most consecutive conference tournament appearances without a title” with Clemson, which is 0-for-55 in trying to win the ACC tournament.  Counting the Vanderbilt game would mean The Citadel is alone in its conference tourney infamy.  No offense to the Tigers, but I don’t believe the 1922 game should count, because it wasn’t really a Southern Conference tournament game.

By the way, you read that right.  The Citadel is 10-55 alltime in the SoCon tournament.  That’s just unbelievably bad.  It comes out to a 14% winning percentage, which is more than twice as bad as even The Citadel’s lousy alltime conference regular season winning percentage (35%).  The Citadel lost 17 straight tourney games from 1961-78, and then from 1985-97 lost 13 more in a row.  Incidentally, the single-game scoring record in the tournament is held by Marshall’s Skip Henderson, who put up 55 on The Citadel in 1988 (in a game Marshall won by 43 points; karma is a you-know-what, as the next night the Thundering Herd, which had won the regular season title that year, lost to UT-Chattanooga by one point).

Those losses aren’t all in consecutive years, as The Citadel didn’t always qualify for the tournament, particularly in the years before 1953, when there were up to 17 teams in the league at any given time, and only the top squads played in the tourney.  The Citadel’s first “real” appearance, in 1938, resulted in a 42-38 loss to Maryland.  The Citadel would lose two more tourney openers before winning its first game in 1943, against South Carolina.  That would be the only time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks faced each other in the tournament, and so South Carolina is one of two teams The Citadel has a winning record against in SoCon tourney play (the Bulldogs are 2-0 against VMI).

The next time The Citadel would win a game in the tournament?  1959, when the Bulldogs actually won two games, against Furman and George Washington, and found themselves in the tourney final.  Unfortunately, the opponent in the title game was West Virginia, led by Jerry West.  West scored 27 points and the Mountaineers pulled away late for an 85-66 victory.  This would be the only time The Citadel ever made the championship game; it’s also the only time the Bulldogs won two games in the tournament.

After a 1961 quarterfinal victory over Richmond, The Citadel would not win another tournament game until 1979, when the Bulldogs defeated Davidson before losing to Furman.  The game against Davidson was played at McAlister Field House, and was the 20th victory of the season, which until Monday was the most games ever won by a Bulldog squad (now tied, of course, by the current edition of the Bulldogs).

The Citadel would win single games in 1982 and 1985 before going winless until 1998, when it finally broke a 13-game tourney losing streak by beating VMI.  The Keydets would be the next victim as well, in 2002, and were apparently so embarrassed they left the league.  The Citadel’s latest win in conference tournament action came in 2006 against Furman.

Twenty different schools have defeated The Citadel in tournament play, with Davidson’s eight victories leading the way (against one loss to the Bulldogs).  East Tennessee State went 6-0 against The Citadel while in the league.

At least ETSU won’t be around this season.  The Citadel’s first game in this year’s tournament will come against either first-year league member Samford or Furman.  The Paladins are 5-2 alltime in tourney play against The Citadel, with the Bulldogs having won the first and most recent meetings.  Records against other tourney teams:  Chattanooga 0-1, Elon 0-1, College of Charleston 0-1, Georgia Southern 0-2, Western Carolina 1-1, Appalachian State 1-6, and Davidson 1-8.  (The Citadel has never played Wofford or UNC-Greensboro in the tournament.)

The very first game worries me.  If it’s Samford, don’t look for another 25-point win.  The Citadel caught that team on a bad night.  Samford is well-coached and its slow-slower-slowest offense can give even a patient team like The Citadel fits.  I am concerned about how the team will react when the bright lights come on for the first time and suddenly everything is on the line, especially when in the unfamiliar role of favorite.  If the opponent is Furman, it would be a much more confident Paladin squad (after coming off a victory) than the one which recently lost to The Citadel, and one that would be more than happy to end a rival’s dream season.

If The Citadel survives the opener and moves to the semifinals for only the second time in 24 years, the opponent could be one of three teams, a trio against which the Bulldogs had a combined regular season record of 1-4, with the one win coming at home by two points.  Of course, one of those potential opponents, Chattanooga, is also the host school for the tournament.

It has been fifty years since The Citadel made its first and only trip to the title game, and if the Bulldogs somehow win two games (for only the second time ever), the opponent will likely either be Davidson, with a healthy Stephen Curry in tow, or a red-hot College of Charleston squad ready to avenge two regular-season defeats at the hands of the Bulldogs.

It’s easy to see that winning the tournament will be a very tall order.  Combine that difficulty with the sordid history of The Citadel in the SoCon tournament, and it’s really hard to imagine the Bulldogs cutting down the nets on Monday night.  That’s a scenario that seems unlikely to unfold.

However, there is another way to look at things.  This isn’t your typical Bulldog squad.  This is a team that has the league’s second-best record, that has won 12 of its last 13 games, that has proven it can win away from home, and has demonstrated it can win even on nights when its key players aren’t at their best.  It has won close games and blowouts, is led by the newly minted coach of the year in the conference, and features an all-conference post player along with an outstanding, versatile group of guards.  If there ever was a team from The Citadel capable of overcoming all that negative history, and making some positive history of its own, this is the one.

Saturday night can’t get here soon enough…