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.

During the 2016 season, what teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

That’s right, it’s time for the annual July topic. In this post, I take a look at football schedules, and note which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. Sometimes, of course, the answer is “bye”.

Let’s review…

September 1 (Thursday): The Citadel’s first game of the season is a road conference matchup with Mercer. The game will be played on Thursday night, the first time I can recall the Bulldogs not opening the season on a Saturday.

As the opener for both teams, obviously neither will have faced a prior opponent this year. Mercer’s last game was a 47-21 home loss to Samford to close out the 2015 campaign.

After playing The Citadel, the Bears will prepare for another triple option team — Georgia Tech. It will be the first time the schools have met on the gridiron since 1938 (and the first game for Mercer against an FBS opponent since it restarted its football program in 2013).

September 10: Furman makes the trip to Charleston to face the Bulldogs. The Paladins open their 2016 season on Friday night (September 2), travelling to East Lansing for a meeting with Michigan State (the first time Furman has ever played a Big 10 team in football).

The Paladins’ home opener is on September 17, versus Chattanooga. It is the only one of FU’s first four games that will take place in Greenville, as Furman will play at Coastal Carolina on September 24.

September 17: The Citadel makes the journey to Boiling Springs, North Carolina, for a Bulldogs-vs.-Bulldogs battle.

It will be Gardner-Webb’s only home game in the month of September. The Runnin’ Bulldogs open with road games at Elon and Western Carolina before playing The Citadel, and will venture into the world of the MAC on September 24 for a contest against Ohio.

September 24: This is the open week for The Citadel. I’ll be on vacation myself. No, that isn’t a coincidence.

October 1: The Bulldogs will be in Cullowhee on the first day of October, tangling with Western Carolina. Both teams will be coming off a bye week.

WCU plays East Tennessee State in Johnson City on September 17. The game against The Citadel will be the first of two straight home contests for the Catamounts, as they play Wofford on October 8.

Western Carolina has FBS bookends on its schedule this year. WCU opens its season with a game versus East Carolina. There will be plenty of purple in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that night.

The Catamounts will conclude regular-season action with a trip to Columbia for an SEC-SoCon Challenge game against South Carolina. Will the local alt-weekly refer to the game as a “cupcake” matchup? I’m guessing it will not.

October 8: After almost a month away from Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel returns home for a Parents’ Day game against North Greenville.

The Crusaders are at home on October 1, facing Mars Hill. After playing The Citadel, the next game for North Greenville is a road matchup versus Tusculum.

October 15: The Bulldogs play Chattanooga in Charleston on this date. The Mocs are at home for both their prior game (Mercer) and the contest that follows (VMI).

After playing eight SoCon games in nine weeks, Chattanooga finishes its regular season campaign with a non-conference clash against Alabama.

October 22: The Citadel faces Wofford in Spartanburg. The Terriers have a bye on October 15. The week following the game against the Bulldogs, Wofford hosts Mercer.

The Terriers open the season with two road games. Wofford plays Mississippi in the second of those contests.

October 29: The Bulldogs play East Tennessee State in the next-to-last home game of the season. The Buccaneers don’t have a bye the week before, but will get a couple of extra days of preparation, as ETSU hosts West Virginia Wesleyan on Thursday, October 20.

East Tennessee State is at Mercer the week following its trip to Johnson Hagood Stadium. ETSU finishes the season with two home games, against Cumberland (yes, the Cumberland of 222-0 fame) and Samford.

November 5: Samford is the Homecoming opponent for The Citadel this year. With the possible exception of Furman, none of the military college’s other opponents has a tougher task the week prior to facing The Citadel. Samford has a matchup at Mississippi State on October 29.

On November 12, Samford holds its own Homecoming game against Mercer.

November 12: The battle for the coveted Silver Shako resumes once again on November 12, this time in Lexington, Virginia. VMI plays at Western Carolina the week before, and concludes its regular season with a game at Wofford the week following this game.

November 19: There will be lots of light blue in Chapel Hill on November 19, as The Citadel comes to town to face North Carolina. The Tar Heels are at Duke on November 12, and have another rivalry game the following week, versus North Carolina State (with that game taking place on the Friday following Thanksgiving Day).

A couple of observations about the schedule:

– Mercer wound up as a de facto “travel partner” of sorts for The Citadel this season. The Bears play Chattanooga the week before the Bulldogs do. Following that, there are three consecutive weeks in which a team will play Mercer the week after playing The Citadel (those three squads being Wofford, East Tennessee State, and Samford).

– As far as “option preview” situations are concerned…

Western Carolina and VMI both face Wofford the week after playing The Citadel. Only two league teams (Samford and East Tennessee State) play Wofford before matchups with The Citadel; both play the Terriers several weeks before meeting the Bulldogs.

North Carolina will play Georgia Tech two weeks before hosting The Citadel in Chapel Hill. North Greenville has a meeting with Lenoir-Rhyne a few weeks before playing The Citadel, but L-R (which has a new head coach) is moving to a more balanced offense after several years running the triple option.

Football season is getting closer…

Hoops season has arrived, and just in time

At first, I was going to wait for a couple of games to be played before I started posting about The Citadel’s basketball team.  I like to do that because I want to see how things are going to shake out in terms of personnel (who is getting the minutes), style of play, etc.

While everyone knows who the key players will be (Cam and Zach!), and who some of the regulars will be (like Austin Dahn and Bryan Streeter), there is still uncertainty about who will be manning other positions and featuring in the rotation.  Can Cosmo Morabbi find his shot?  Is it true that Matt Clark is going to thrive in the new offensive system?  Just how quick is freshman DeVontae Wright?  Are the two European-born grad student big guys named Mike any good?

Plus, Chuck Driesell is now the coach, and apparently he wants to play at a quicker tempo than his predecessor, Ed Conroy.  In the exhibition victory over North Greenville, the Bulldogs had 71 possessions.  In 2010, The Citadel averaged 61.1 possessions per game; in 2009, 64.8 ppg.  Of course, it’s only one game, and one that doesn’t count.

However, I decided to make this ramble of a post, because I’m ready for the season to start.  If I hadn’t been excited for college hoops season already, Wednesday night’s thriller between Maryland and the College of Charleston would have done the trick anyway.  That was a fun game to watch, and also an instructive one for the Bulldogs.

In last season’s two meetings with the CofC, The Citadel did a good job keeping Andrew Goudelock from exploding from beyond the arc.  He was a combined 2-14 from 3-land in the two games.  The Bulldogs are going to have to do that again this season when they match up against the Cougars.  It won’t be easy.

The Citadel opens its season on the road at Richmond.  The Spiders, which run the “Princeton” offense, were very good last season, and are expected to be very good again this year.  In 2010 Richmond narrowly missed out on winning the Atlantic 10 regular season title, and then advanced to the league tourney final.  The Spiders received an at-large bid to the NCAAs, finishing 26-9 after a first-round loss to St. Mary’s.

Richmond features 2010 A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson, a 6’0″ guard who averaged nearly 18 points per game last season, and 6’10” NBA prospect Justin Harper, both seniors.  They are two of eleven returning scholarship players. Richmond has a bevy of frontcourt players to complement Harper, but must find an outside shooter to replace Daniel Gonzalves, who has graduated.  There appear to be several worthy candidates, however.

The Spiders’ only real weakness is on the boards, and it cost them against St. Mary’s, as Gaels big man Omar Samhan had a field day against them.  (Of course, 2-seed Villanova couldn’t handle Samhan either.)

There is a lot of anticipation for the upcoming season for Richmond fans, who expect a banner campaign — and it’s hard to blame them for being excited.

As for the game itself, besides Richmond’s talent, I’m a little concerned about the pace of play.  If Driesell’s Dogs really are going to be significantly more uptempo this season, then this will be a case of the Spiders wanting to play “slower” than the Bulldogs.

It has been unusual in recent years, of course, for a team to play at a slower pace than The Citadel, but when it has happened it has occasionally thrown the Bulldogs off their game.  I remember a bad Iowa team beating The Citadel easily at McAlister Field House two years ago, partly because of its size, and partly because The Citadel seemed flummoxed by the Hawkeyes’ style.  The same has sometimes been true when playing Samford, another school that employs the Princeton offense (the 2009 SoCon tourney game still gives me nightmares).

If The Citadel is going to try to occasionally force the action this season, there will be times when the other team wants to slow the game down, and the Bulldogs are going to have to learn how to adjust.  Friday night’s game may provide a good test in that respect.

Earlier in the summer, it was generally believed that The Citadel would be participating in the Charleston Classic.  I was very happy about that, as it would be a chance for the Bulldogs to play good competition early in the season, and possibly on television.

However, at the last minute Wofford was substituted as the SoCon’s representative in the tournament.  I was less than thrilled about that, and am even less thrilled now, because it’s my understanding that The Citadel elected not to play in the tournament after originally agreeing to do so.  Ed Conroy was game, but Chuck Driesell was apparently not interested.

I’m sure he had a good reason, but I would like to know what that reason was.  The Charleston Classic is an ESPN tournament, and will get its fair share of promotion from the four-letter.  In addition, at least two (if not all three) of the games The Citadel would have played in the tourney would have been on television.

There is nothing more frustrating than having a billion college basketball games on television, and almost none of them featuring your team.  This season, The Citadel will apparently only appear on television three times — on SportSouth (at the College of Charleston), on FSN-Rocky Mountain against Colorado, and on KASY-TV, which will carry the game against New Mexico (but which probably won’t be on Full Court, and thus will be unavailable outside the Albuquerque area).

ESPN will televise over 1200 college basketball games this season.  None of them involve The Citadel.

The Citadel should have (at the very least) a competitive team this year, one that merits as much promotion and coverage as it can handle.  As it is, the Bulldogs are so anonymous that the mammoth College Basketball Prospectus forgot to include The Citadel in its publication, the only one of 345 Division I programs to be left out.

The Bulldogs aren’t playing in next season’s Charleston Classic either (oddly, no SoCon school is).  Maybe The Citadel is holding out for another chance to play in a ballroom in Cancun

I’ll close this post by throwing in a few links:

— Richmond game notes (.pdf):  Notice that Chuck Driesell’s name is misspelled. Also, it would have been nice if UR had referred to “The Citadel” on its cover page, but considering we can’t get the name right on our uniforms, I can’t complain about another school failing to do so.

— Richmond student newspaper, The Collegian, with a writeup:  Link

— Here is an article on Tulane’s exhibition victory over Loyola of New Orleans.  I’m only linking it because I’m a little puzzled about Ben Cherry being eligible.  More power to him.

— The “holy grail” for The Citadel’s basketball program, of course, is the NCAA Tournament.  For those unaware of how difficult this task has been for the Bulldogs, my manifesto from two seasons ago (slightly outdated but still mostly relevant):  Link

— Do you remember how a feature story on Ed Conroy and the Bulldogs almost always wound up being about Pat Conroy?  Of course you do.  Well, prepare for more of the same, as scribes writing about Chuck Driesell and The Citadel will often revert to telling stories about Lefty.

I’m ready for some hoops…

Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Chowan

It’s time for college football!   This year the scene at Johnson Hagood Stadium should include a lot of the following:  great tailgating, photo ops with Bulldogs both live and bronze, and, uh, fumbles…

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the sunniest intro of all time.  I have to be honest here, though.  While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

The Catamounts finished last in 2009, with only one league win.  That one WCU victory came against The Citadel, which tied for next-to-last.  More of the same is expected by those who follow the SoCon.

Before beginning league play, though, The Citadel will play three non-conference games.  Next week’s game at Arizona should be…interesting.  The following week the Bulldogs will take on Presbyterian, a team that went 0-11 last season, including a 46-21 loss to The Citadel.  However, even the Blue Hose would be favored against the Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Chowan University, a Division II school located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

When the Hawks were announced as the opposition for the home opener, a collective yawn could be heard from The Citadel’s less-than-thrilled fans.  It’s hard to blame anyone for not being excited about Chowan being on the schedule, with all due respect to that school.  I’m guessing this game’s not going to be a sellout.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Chowan.

I wish I could say with confidence exactly how “Chowan” should be pronounced.  This is probably something that should concern Bulldogs play-by-play announcer Darren Goldwater a lot more than me, but I like to know these things.  I even sent an e-mail to Chowan’s department of athletics asking the question, and quickly got a response:

It’s pronounced CHO-WAN with a hard CH, just like CHOKE or CHICKEN. CHO-WAN.

That’s from somebody who works at the school, so she ought to know, but two different people have insisted to me that it’s actually pronounced “Shuh-WONN”, with the “Sh” sound at the beginning and the accent on the second syllable.  Since both of them are natives of eastern North Carolina, the region of the state that actually has decent BBQ, I tend to trust them.

“Chowan” is a derivative of “Chowanoke”, the name given to the native tribe of the region by 16th-century European explorers.  My guess is that if you were French, you pronounced it with the “Sh”, and if you were English, you went with the hard “Ch” sound.  It’s kind of like Beaufort (BO-fert), North Carolina, and Beaufort (BYOO-fert), South Carolina.

You like to-ma-to, I like to-mah-to, let’s call the whole thing off…

There is also a Chowan river, and a Chowan County — but Chowan University isn’t located in that county, but in the adjoining county of Hertford.  Naturally, this school in northeastern North Carolina is named to honor a tribe whose name means “people of the south”.

Regardless of its pronunciation, the school has been around in one form or another since 1848, when it was founded as Chowan Baptist Female Institute.  The school remained all-female until 1931, but in 1937 it became a junior college.

It reverted back to four-year status in 1992, and changed its name to the current Chowan University in 2006.  This fall, it will offer its first Masters Degree program, in Elementary Education.  Chowan remains affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 1100 students attend Chowan.  I thought the section titled “Who we serve” on the school’s website was interesting:

The Chowan University community is committed to serving average students. By “average” we mean students with a GPA from 2.25-3.25 and “average” SAT scores (around 1300 for the three part SAT). Students below these criteria may be admitted if they show a commitment to the Chowan University experience and academic potential…

Many of our students are first generation college students which means their parents did not attend college or complete a college degree. Because of Chowan’s commitment to individual attention in a Christian environment, these students thrive here.

I liked this statement.  Too many schools insist on presenting themselves as wannabe Ivies, when everyone knows better.  Here we have a school that knows exactly what its mission is, and what it wants to do, and isn’t apologetic about it in the least.  Good for Chowan.

Chowan had a fine run in football as a junior college, almost entirely under James Garrison, who was the head coach at the school for 43 years (and for whom its football stadium is named).  Quite a few Chowan alums went on to four-year schools and then the NFL, including George Koonce, Curtis Whitley, and Mark Royals.

However, Chowan has struggled on the gridiron since becoming a four-year school itself.  Since 1993, the Hawks (formerly the Braves) have a cumulative record of 39-168-1 in Division III and (since 2005) Division II.  That includes Saturday’s 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.

Chowan has been a football member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association since the 2008 season (and is now a full member of the conference). Chowan is the first non-HBCU member of the CIAA in the league’s 98-year history.

The CIAA now has 13 members, and as a result the conference’s slogan for this year is “Triskaidekaphobia: Fear the 13!”  I’m not sure what the Southern Conference’s slogan would be — “The SoCon: The Nation’s Most Transient League”?

For Chowan football, the last five years have looked like this:

2005 — 2-8, including a 56-10 loss to North Greenville (now of Willy Korn fame) and a 42-21 defeat at the hands of Allen, which dropped its program after the season

2006 — 0-10, including losses of 42-0 to Western Carolina, 52-6 to North Greenville, and 28-0 to Webber International; Webber played The Citadel the following season, with a slightly different result

2007 — 2-9, including a lot of total beatdowns:  51-0 (Coastal Carolina), 56-14 (North Greenville), Presbyterian (62-10), and Newberry (67-0)

2008 — 2-8, which featured an early-season 69-20 loss to VMI (which had concluded its 2007 campaign in memorable fashion)

2009 — 2-8, although most of the games were more competitive; the Hawks did lose 36-21 to Old Dominion, the Monarchs’ first game since restarting its program after a 68-year hiatus (ODU did finish the season 9-2, though)

Those last two seasons came under the direction of the current head coach, Tim Place.  Place is a Washington & Lee alum who was previously the head coach at Urbana, an NAIA school in Ohio.

One of the members of Place’s coaching staff is Omar Nesbit.  Nesbit was an All-SoCon lineman at The Citadel, graduating in 2002.  He is the Hawks’ offensive line coach.

According to the school’s pre-season football guide, the team runs a “multiple” offense and a “multiple” defense.  Thirteen starters are back from last year’s outfit.

Last season the Hawks scored 25.3 points per game, not bad, but allowed 35.2 ppg. While the Hawks were a respectable passing team, all 25 of its TD passes were thrown by C.J. Westler, who was the offensive player of the year in the CIAA, and who is not among the returnees.  Much like The Citadel, Chowan has to find a quarterback (it played two in the Lenoir-Rhyne game).

Chowan turned the ball over three times per game, almost double its opponents’ totals, and averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per rush.  The Hawks gave up 48 sacks.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously not good.  Opponents scored touchdowns 70% of the time when they entered the “red zone”.  Chowan was also not a particularly efficient punting or placekicking team.

Against Lenoir-Rhyne, Chowan allowed 513 rushing yards (6.9 per attempt).  This is noteworthy in that L-R is running the same offensive system this season it ran last year under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine — who of course is now the offensive coordinator at The Citadel.

Laurendine has his work cut out for him, based on early reports.  For example, this is how Jeff Hartsell began his recap of the August 21 scrimmage:

After watching his quarterbacks combine for six interceptions and at least five fumbled snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stated the obvious.

“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do,” said Higgins…

You could say that, coach.  On the bright side, nine of the eighteen pass attempts in the scrimmage were caught by Bulldogs.  Alas, six of them were defenders.  At least on those plays the QB got the snap from center.  Unofficial totals from the scrimmage had the first-team offense rushing 27 times for 67 yards.

At least the defense apparently looked good, although how much of that was due to the offense’s struggles is open to question.  The kicking game again failed to impress, a problem Higgins has been unable to solve for the last two seasons.

The scrimmage on August 28 was apparently better, based on some anecdotal reports.  At this point it appears the Bulldogs will play two “true” freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree (from Pennsylvania) and Matt Thompson (from Florida).

Terrell “First Sergeant” Dallas will be the fullback.  There are several candidates to fill the slotback positions, led by Van Dyke Jones and injury-plagued Rickey Anderson (everyone’s crossing their fingers for you, Rickey).  The offensive line has some experience, but not at center, which in part explains the center-QB exchange problems.

We won’t know for sure exactly how the new offense will look until Saturday, but it probably will be a slightly different variation than Charlie Taaffe’s version of the wishbone.  It’s not going to be quite like Wofford’s option attack, either.

It’s probably going to most resemble the setup run by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and now Georgia Tech.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Higgins, with a personal history of running spread passing offenses, throws the ball a little more often than you see in most triple option offenses.

He has to figure out a way to get talented tight end Alex Sellars involved in the offense. Higgins has also commented on the big-play ability of Domonic Jones, a 6’5″ redshirt freshman.  I like the idea of isolating a tall receiver on a smaller defensive back in this offense.  Of course, you have to have a quarterback capable of getting the ball to Jones.

I linked this in an earlier post, but to get up to speed on how this offense will probably operate, check out The Birddog (helmed by a grad/fan of the Naval Academy), the triple option devotee’s website of choice.  Here is a primer on the TO:  Link

While the offense is filled with question marks, the defense should have a lot of answers.  There is depth and talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the defensive backfield.  Cortez Allen has drawn pre-season accolades.  Other DBs with the potential to shine include Keith Gamble (who had an 89-yard interception return against Presbyterian last season) and Joseph Boateng (who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut against North Carolina).

Former safety Rod Harland is now a linebacker, joining team leader Tolu Akindele and Jeremy Buncum as likely starters.  The defensive line should be solid, if a little young.  Chris Billingslea had some impressive moments last season (and made the All-SoCon freshman team as a result).  Keith Carter is a redshirt freshman who should draw notice, if only for being a defensive tackle who wears #33.

The other defensive lineman (at least that’s his roster designation) I want to mention is Milford Scott, a special teams terror who blocked three kicks last season and created havoc many other times.  He’s tall, has long arms, and describes himself as a “Charleston homeboy” from the beach.  He’s a weapon.

Unfortunately, Scott’s dynamism on special teams was an exception (not counting Andre Roberts, obviously).  While punter Cass Couey fared reasonably well, the Bulldogs continued to struggle in the placekicking department.  That’s two seasons in a row The Citadel has had sub-optimal kicking, and early returns suggest it might be three in a row.

I don’t blame the kickers.  I blame the coaching staff.  It’s the job of the staff to get that aspect of the squad fixed, either by improving the kickers on the squad or finding somebody else to kick.

The Citadel also could stand to improve its punt coverage team (Scott aside) and its kickoff return unit.  The Bulldogs will sorely miss Andre Roberts as a punt returner; look for that component of special teams to not be as effective this season.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching staff, not only with the new offensive scheme (where the aforementioned Laurendine is joined by offensive line coach Bob Bodine), but with the defense as well.  Higgins recruited former Wofford assistant Josh Conklin to join the staff, and later named him defensive coordinator.

Conklin will get help from another new assistant, Denny Doornbos, who was the defensive coordinator at Army during the Bob Sutton years, which were mostly good ones.  I have to gleefully point out, though, that he was the DC for this game…and for this game, too.

While all the talk in the off-season has been about the offensive scheme, and how the coaches will implement it, I think the new coaches on the defensive side of the ball will be just as important.  Generally, you would like to have more staff continuity than The Citadel has had, but in the case of the defense, I think a fresh approach may be just what was needed.

There was a sense over the last two seasons that the defense had underachieved; in particular, some observers felt the unit was not aggressive enough.  The Bulldogs’ D must be pro-active this season, and give the offense short fields with which to work. The defense will likely also have to bail the offense out on a regular basis.

This is going to be an important year for Kevin Higgins.  The off-season issues, not surprisingly, did not sit well with the alumni — and I’m not just talking about the big boosters or the message board regulars.  He also has had back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field.

The move to a new offense, and the overhaul of his coaching staff, were both bold moves made by someone who expects to stick around for a while.  They weren’t short-term stopgaps.  That is to his credit, I think.

Now, however, even with modest on-field expectations, he needs to get the fan base to buy into his program again.  After all, Larry Leckonby and company need to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Jerry Baker has Brigadier Club membership goals to obtain, whatever his methods are (high-tech, low-tech, begging, etc.).

A 1:00 pm start time against Chowan on Labor Day weekend in Charleston probably isn’t going to be a big winner as far as attendance goes.  I fully expect one of those hot-and-humid Lowcountry days that are fairly typical for this time of year. Ugh.  Of course, that’s assuming a hurricane doesn’t come into play.

I’ll be there anyway, though.  I’m ready for some football.