2014 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 15. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “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.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/11 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Samford defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio on the SoCon media teleconference

Aaron Miller is the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week

Homecoming highlights

Jaquiski Tartt will be Samford’s first-ever Senior Bowl representative

My preview of The Citadel’s upcoming basketball season

Also, a hoops season preview article from The Post and Courier

As this is a Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs matchup, I have to define some terms:

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel, while “Birmingham Bulldogs”, “SU”, or “Baptist Tigers” will serve as references to Samford.

It is possible that this is Pat Sullivan’s last year coaching at Samford. Sullivan has had serious health problems in recent years, and missed the first three games of last season while recuperating from back surgery.

This year, Sullivan missed the season opener at TCU (where he was once the head coach) as he recovered from cervical fusion surgery; he coached Samford’s league opener against VMI from the press box. Most of the coach’s health issues can be traced from chemotherapy and radiation treatments he received after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2003.

Defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio was the acting head coach against TCU and has handled a considerable amount of media obligations on Sullivan’s behalf throughout much of the season.

If this is Sullivan’s final season (and I have no idea if it is), he’s having another solid campaign. The Birmingham Bulldogs are 6-3 and have clinched the program’s fourth consecutive winning season. Samford won’t win a piece of the SoCon title this year as it did in 2013, but it could finish as high as second.

Last week’s victory over Western Carolina was Sullivan’s 46th win in his eight years at Samford. That made him the school’s alltime winningest football coach. The school’s field house will be named in his honor.

Samford has not played a “like” non-conference opponent. Besides TCU, the Birmingham Bulldogs have played two small Alabama schools, Stillman (which competes in Division II) and Concordia (which isn’t an NCAA or NAIA member; it plays in the USCAA).

After it plays The Citadel, Samford will finish its season by playing at Auburn, Pat Sullivan’s alma mater (and where as a quarterback he led the team to three bowl games and won the Heisman Trophy in 1971).

Samford beat the two Alabama colleges by a combined score of 107-0; it lost to a powerful TCU squad 48-14. As far as evaluating SU is concerned, then, it’s best to simply focus on its games in SoCon play.

The first conference opponent Samford faced was VMI, in the third game of the season. SU destroyed the Keydets 63-21. SU led 49-0 at halftime, delighting the partisan home crowd, and rolled up 525 yards of total offense (including 180 yards rushing for Denzel Williams).

Samford’s next game was a 38-24 loss at Chattanooga. Starting quarterback Michael Eubank threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but was also intercepted three times and sacked four times.

One week after averaging 7.5 yards per play, SU was held to 4.7 yards per play by the Mocs (despite 129 yards receiving for Karel Hamilton). Samford also allowed a punt return TD in the contest.

The Birmingham Bulldogs rebounded with a 21-18 home victory over Mercer. Samford led the entire game, and was up by 11 points with less than a minute to play when Mercer’s Chandler Curtis returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown. SU recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve the victory. Hamilton had 10 catches and 101 receiving yards, while Jaquiski Tartt had eight tackles and also intercepted a pass.

After a bye week, Samford lost at home to Wofford 24-20. The Terriers took the lead with less than five minutes in the game, then stopped SU on 4th-and-1 from the Wofford 24, gaining possession and the win.

Samford’s D held Wofford to 3.8 yards per play (and under 200 total rushing yards, though Terriers fullback Lorenzo Long did rush for 128 yards on 20 carries). Michael Eubank passed for 305 yards and a TD (he also threw a pick). Samford was 3-13 on third down conversions and only rushed for 49 yards, which contributed to Wofford’s edge in time of possession (over seven minutes).

The following week, SU destroyed Furman in Greenville 45-0. Samford led 14-0 after less than three minutes, having only run one offensive play. A blocked punt for a TD opened the scoring for the Birmingham Bulldogs, and they never looked back. Denzel Williams rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while Eubank had another 300-yard passing day. Karel Hamilton had 206 yards receiving (on nine catches).

In beating Western Carolina 34-20 last week, Williams rushed for 156 yards and two more TDs, while Hamilton had another 100-yard receiving day. Justin Cooper had 14 tackles to lead a defense that intercepted two WCU passes.

The next three sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for SoCon games only (unless otherwise indicated). Samford has played six league games, facing every conference team except The Citadel.

The Bulldogs have played all but two SoCon teams, Samford and VMI.

In those six conference matchups, Samford’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 46.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.8% of SU’s total offense.

Samford is second in scoring offense (34.5 ppg) and total offense, and also second in the league in yards per play (5.9). The Citadel is next-to-last in total defense and is allowing 7.2 yards per play, but is actually fifth in scoring defense (28.2 ppg).

SU leads the league in passing offense, averaging 252.7 yards per game in conference action. Samford is third in the SoCon in passing efficiency, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. SU quarterbacks have been sacked twelve times, tied with Mercer for the most allowed in league play.

The Birmingham Bulldogs have averaged 32.2 pass attempts per game, which is more than every league team except Furman and VMI.

Samford is averaging 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which is fourth in the SoCon. The Citadel is sixth in pass defense, but dead last in defensive pass efficiency, allowing 9.5 yards per pass attempt. In five league games, the Cadets only have five sacks and three interceptions.

The Birmingham Bulldogs are fourth in rushing offense (4.4 yards per carry), averaging 185 yards per game. Samford’s 17 rushing touchdowns are second in the conference, behind Chattanooga.

The Citadel is next-to-last in rushing defense, and is allowing a league-worst 6.2 yards per rush.

Samford is fourth in offensive third down conversion rate (42.5%). The Citadel is fifth in defensive third down conversion rate (44.8%).

SU has a red zone TD rate of 60%, second-worst in the league (but well ahead of Furman’s abysmal 28.6%). The Citadel’s red zone D has been solid, with a TD rate of 47.3%, second-best in the league (behind only Western Carolina).

Samford is third in scoring defense, allowing 20.2 points per game. SU is also third in total defense (4.5 yards allowed per play) and rushing defense (3.9).

The Citadel is third in total offense (averaging 5.5 yards per play) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, trailing only Cal Poly). The Bulldogs are next-to-last in passing (averaging only 6.4 yards per attempt), but are actually fifth in passing efficiency.

Samford leads the league in passing defense, allowing 141 yards per game (which is third nationally). SU is also first in the SoCon in pass efficiency defense, and leads the conference in interceptions (9).

At 49.4%, The Citadel is second in the SoCon in offensive third down conversion rate, behind only UTC. Samford is second in defensive third down conversion rate (32.3%), so this will definitely be something to watch on Saturday.

The Citadel has an offensive TD rate of 66.7%, tied for third-best in the league. Samford’s red zone defensive TD rate is 76.5%, sixth-best in the conference.

Samford is +2 in turnover margin in league action, while The Citadel is +1.

As far as time of possession is concerned, The Citadel has held the ball for an average of 31:25, second-highest in the conference. Samford is next-to-last in that category (28:39).

That hasn’t prevented the Birmingham Bulldogs from leading the league in offensive plays. Samford’s hurry-up style has led to it averaging 2.58 plays per minute in SoCon games when on offense. Conversely, The Citadel runs 2.33 plays per minute when it is on offense.

Interestingly, the two teams have run almost the exact same number of offensive plays per game (73.8 for Samford, 73.4 for The Citadel).

The Citadel is tied for the second-fewest penalties per game in SoCon play, while Samford has the second-most. On the other side of the coin, SU opponents commit more penalties per game than all but one team in the league (VMI). As its fans know all too well, The Citadel does not get the benefit of having a lot of flags thrown on opposing teams in SoCon contests; only Wofford has seen fewer in this category.

Samford quarterback Michael Eubank (6’6″, 246 lbs.) is a native of California who was the No. 8 high school dual-threat QB in the nation in 2011, per Rivals.com. He would up attending Arizona State for three years, redshirting his freshman year and then playing in 20 games over the next two seasons, rushing for seven touchdowns and throwing for four more.

In January of 2014, Eubank transferred to Samford. This season, he is completing 64.7% of his passes, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, with ten touchdowns and six interceptions. Eubank also has five rushing touchdowns.

Denzel Williams (5’10”, 191 lbs.) is the workhorse running back in Samford’s spread offense. The redshirt sophomore has 157 of the team’s 392 rushing attempts this season; Eubank is the only other player with more than 37.

For the season, Williams is averaging 87.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry; with 15 rushing touchdowns, he also leads the SoCon in scoring. Williams had 180 yards rushing against VMI, and also had 100-yard efforts against Furman and Western Carolina.

Karel Hamilton (6’1″, 190 lbs.) is far and away the leader in receptions for Samford, with 45. The sophomore is averaging a sterling 16.4 yards per catch, with six TDs. As mentioned earlier, Hamilton had 206 yards receiving against Furman; he also had 115 yards receiving versus Western Carolina, 101 yards against Mercer, and 129 yards versus Chattanooga.

Tight end Tony Philpot (6’2″, 243 lbs.) was a second-team all-league selection in the preseason.

Average size of the starters on Samford’s offensive line: 6’4″, 299 lbs. Right tackle Gunnar Bromelow, a preseason first-season All-SoCon selection, is the biggest of the group; the redshirt junior checks in at 6’6″, 305 lbs. Right guard C.H. Scruggs was a second-team All-SoCon preseason choice.

Four of the five o-line starters are in their fourth or fifth year in the program.

In my opinion, free safety Jaquiski Tartt (6’1″, 218 lbs.) is one of the two best defensive players in the league (along with Chattanooga’s Davis Tull). He had a pick-6 against The Citadel in 2012. Tartt is second on the team in tackles, with 57.

Tartt was one of two Samford defensive backs to get a first-team preseason All-Conference nod. James Bradberry, a 6’1″, 205 lb. cornerback, was the other. Bradberry spent one year at Arkansas State before joining the Birmingham Bulldogs’ program.

Strong safety Jamerson Blount (6’1″, 190 lbs.) leads the team in passes defensed and is also third in tackles. He is one of 22 players from Florida on the SU roster.

Samford’s leading tackler is middle linebacker Justin Cooper, a 6’2″, 230 lb. redshirt junior who began his college career at Texas Tech. Cooper has 5.5 tackles for loss this season (69 overall) and is the reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week.

Fellow linebacker Josh Killett (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has six tackles for loss as part of his 40 overall tackles.

Along the defensive line, Samford is quite imposing. There are a lot of players in the rotation (including three noseguards on the two-deep), and plenty of individual size and skill.

Michael Pierce, a 6’0″, 309 lb. defensive tackle who spent his first two years in college at Tulane before transferring to Samford last year, was a first-team All-SoCon preseason selection. He has 33 tackles this year, including five tackles for loss.

Mike Houston called Pierce “one of the better d-linemen in the league” in his weekly press conference. Pierce’s younger brother Myles is a freshman linebacker at The Citadel who had a tackle last week against Furman.

One of three players listed on the depth chart at the “stud” position, Roosevelt Donaldson (6’2″, 258 lbs.), leads the team in tackles for loss, with seven. He also has the most sacks (four).

For Samford, both kicker Warren Handrahan and punter Greg Peranich were first-team preseason picks for the All-SoCon team.

Peranich is averaging 43.1 yards per punt, with 14 of his 41 kicks downed inside the 20 (against four touchbacks). However, two of his punts this season have been returned for TDs. Samford is in the bottom five nationally in average punt return allowed (17.77 yards).

Handrahan is 5-9 on field goal attempts this season, with a long of 47. Last season he was 19-24 on field goal attempts, with a long of 48. That included two field goals against The Citadel (including a 44-yarder).

He did not kick in Samford’s victory over Western Carolina last week. Backup placekicker Reece Everett was 2-2 on field goal tries (and is 4-5 for the season). Everett is listed as this week’s starter on the two-deep.

Samford’s kickoff specialist is Michael O’Neal. Almost 25% of O’Neal’s kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks; he has only kicked the ball out of bounds once this year.

Nationally, SU is 43rd in kickoff return average (21.0 yards/return) and 61st in kickoff return defense (19.8 yards/return).

Robert Clark, a 5’9″, 173 lb. wide receiver, is Samford’s primary kickoff and punt returner. His longest kick return this season was for 45 yards.

From 2010-2012, The Citadel’s offense only scored a combined total of 34 points in three games against Samford’s “Bear” front. In those three games, the Bulldogs faced third down on 39 occasions, converting only six of them for first downs.

Last season’s game was different. The Citadel was 8-17 on third down and scored four rushing touchdowns while rolling up a respectable 338 yards rushing. The Bulldogs overcame a 17-0 deficit to win 28-26, with Vinny Miller rushing for 95 yards.

The Citadel only passed for 55 yards in that contest, however (on 16 attempts). If the Bulldogs hope to win on Saturday, they will likely have to throw for more yardage than that, and more effectively as well.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel’s game notes mentioned the initial encounter between Samford and The Citadel on the gridiron, the 1989 contest. It was arguably the most memorable game between the two teams. It was the first game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium following the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo. The Citadel won the game, 35-16. Three brief comments on that matchup:

  • The Citadel only attempted two passes, completing one of them. I’ll bet you thought Jack Douglas threw that completed pass, but nope: it was Speizio Stowers with a 16-yard pass to Cornell Caldwell.
  • Douglas threw the other Bulldog pass in that game, which fell incomplete, but we’ll cut him some slack, since he rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown while directing an attack that finished with 402 yards rushing. Tom Frooman had 113 of those yards and three TDs, while Raymond Mazyck added 92 yards on the ground and a score. Also prominent in the statbook that day: Kingstree’s own Alfred Williams, with 55 yards rushing on 11 carries.
  • Care to guess what the attendance was? Remember, Charleston was still in major recovery mode from the hurricane (you could say the same about Johnson Hagood Stadium). Okay, the answer: 15,214. Think about that, especially when compared to recent attendance at The Citadel (and elsewhere, for that matter).

– Speaking of the game notes, I didn’t realize Jake Stenson became the first Bulldog since Andre Roberts in 2008 to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game. Kudos to him.

– The 22 positions on offense and defense for The Citadel have been started by a total of 32 players — 18 on offense, and only 14 on defense. Eleven Bulldogs have started every game, including seven on defense.

– The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame will enshrine six new members this week. Two baseball players, 1990 CWS hero Hank Kraft and Rodney Hancock (the scourge of Furman) will be inducted. All-American wrestler Dan Thompson will be enshrined, as will football lineman Mike Davitt, a mainstay during the Red Parker era. Charleston mayor Joe Riley and basketball player/cookbook author Pat Conroy will be recognized as “honorary” members.

– The 1:00 pm ET start time will be the fourth different start time for a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2014. Other start times: Noon, 2pm, and 6pm.

– Only one player on Samford’s roster, reserve defensive lineman Cole Malphrus, is from South Carolina. The junior is from Hilton Head.

There are 28 natives of Alabama playing for SU, along with 22 each from Georgia and Florida. Tennessee is represented by seven players, while four hail from Mississippi, three from California, and two from North Carolina. There is even one Alaskan playing for the Baptist Tigers (freshman defensive back C.J. Toomer).

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Aubie The Tiger, the mascot for Auburn.

Vote for Spike!

This is a tough matchup for The Citadel. It’s an opponent with a defense that has a history of success against the triple option (last year notwithstanding) and an offense that would be expected to do well against the Bulldogs’ pass D.

The key to the game for The Citadel is to keep Samford’s offense off the field as much as possible. The SU defense has been good at stopping teams on third down this season; the Bulldogs have to reverse that trend on Saturday.

Samford has had some results that might give The Citadel some confidence, including its games against Wofford and Mercer. On the other hand, the Birmingham Bulldogs drilled Furman (which took The Citadel to overtime just last week) and handled Western Carolina with relative ease.

The Citadel can win this game, but it will probably take the Bulldogs’ best performance of the season. That includes a team effort from not only the offense and defense, but also the special teams, which were subpar against the Paladins (to say the least).

I am a little worried about the atmosphere on Saturday. After the big Homecoming win over Furman, this game might be anticlimactic to some.

It shouldn’t be that way for the team, however. There are still goals to pursue for these Bulldogs, including a third straight victory and a chance to finish the year with a winning season in conference play.

I’m looking forward to this contest. It’s a home game, after all. There aren’t that many of them in a given season.

You have to treasure them all, especially when there won’t be another one until next September.

2012 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel at Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 6.  The game will not be televised. The contest can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze patrolling the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pregame, halftime, and postgame commentary. Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Samford.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Samford game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Sports Network FCS Poll

Pat Sullivan’s SoCon media teleconference

The Kevin Higgins Show, Part 1 and Part 2

Catching up with…Derek Douglas

Feature in The Post and Courier on Sadath Jean-Pierre

Some quick facts about Samford…

– Samford was called Howard College until 1965, when it became a university. In an effort to avoid being mistaken for Howard University, the MEAC school located in Washington, DC, the name was changed to Samford.

– While it is now in suburban Birmingham, Samford was originally located in Marion, Alabama. The decision to move to Birmingham (which happened in 1887) was far from unanimous, and among those staying in Marion was the school president, Col. James T. Murfee, who had in the post-Civil War era brought a military atmosphere to Howard College.

On the old Marion campus, Murfee founded Marion Military Institute, which is now a junior college and “The State Military College of Alabama”.

– Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school in the U.S., and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines.

(In case you were wondering, and I’m sure you were, the other law school to be bought and moved was the one at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Washington. It was sold and moved to Seattle University in 1994.)

– Samford played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.  Samford also played in the first night game at Legion Field (in 1928), losing 12-7 to Spring Hill.

The school’s football team also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963. Samford discontinued football in 1974, but reinstated the sport ten years later.

– Samford’s athletic teams, like those at The Citadel, are known as the “Bulldogs”. Also like The Citadel, its cartoon mascot is called “Spike”. It even has a live mascot now, like the military college, but there the similarities end. Samford’s bulldog is a female named “Libby“.

– Bobby Bowden was 31-6 as head coach at Samford (his alma mater), and his son Terry was 45-23-1 at Samford before taking the top job at Auburn. He is now in his first season as head coach of Akron. Terry Bowden’s first quarterback at Samford was Jimbo Fisher, who succeeded Bobby Bowden as head coach at Florida State.

[Pat] Sullivan said [last week] that this [Samford] team was the best he’s had in his six years at the school. The Bulldogs had their best grades in the offseason and have united as one.

“I’ve been talking about this team since last January,” Sullivan said. “I don’t know how the rest of the year is going to come out, but what I do know is that these players and coaches have been on a mission. There’s been no hidden agendas. Everybody talks about one family and this has truly been one (family) this year.”

I’m not sure if people knew what to make of this year’s Samford team before the season started. The Birmingham Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in the SoCon by both the media voters and the coaches, but there was (and is) clearly a lot of respect for several individual Samford players (eight of whom were preseason choices for first- or second-team all-conference).

This is a team with a lot of talented players. The question, I suppose, is whether Samford has enough depth across the board to be a contender for the league title. Currently, Samford is 4-1 after suffering its first loss of the season last week at Georgia Southern.

If you have followed SoCon football at all over the last few years, you know that Dustin Taliaferro had been Samford’s quarterback since 1916, when the team was called the “Baptist Tigers”. Okay, I’m exaggerating — but Taliaferro ran Samford’s offense for so long that opponents actually knew his last name was pronounced “Tolliver”.

Taliaferro has finally used up his eligibility for Samford, and his replacement at QB is Andy Summerlin, who is a fifth-year senior transfer from Memphis. So far, Summerlin has been solid, although he struggled at Georgia Southern last week. He is completing 62.9% of his passes, and has thrown for five touchdowns against four interceptions (one of which was returned for a TD in the GSU game).

Fabian Truss is an excellent running back. He rushed for 102 yards against Furman and 180 yards versus Western Carolina. He is also an outstanding kick returner. His backup, Jeremiaha Gates, is no slouch either; after Truss was injured against The Citadel last season, Gates rushed 12 times for 59 yards, and followed that up with a 119-yard effort the next week at Auburn.

Wide receiver Kelsey Pope should be a familiar name to fans of The Citadel, since Pope caught 17 passes in last season’s matchup in Charleston. One of the other fine wideouts on the Samford roster, Riley Hawkins, is also a very good punt returner.

Samford traditionally has a large offensive line, and this year is no different. The listed weights of the five projected starters on the two-deep: 285 lbs., 295 lbs., 285 lbs., 285 lbs., 315 lbs. The most highly regarded of that group is center Ryan Dudchock, a redshirt senior who has made 27 consecutive starts. Dudchock was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

Last year’s offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, left to join Gus Malzahn’s staff at Arkansas State. From what I can tell, this year’ s offense is similar to what Samford ran in 2011, which was basically Malzahnish. Samford is averaging 74.6 plays from the line of scrimmage this year, almost the same hurry-up pace it had last season (75.6).

By way of comparison, The Citadel’s offense is averaging 60.8 plays from the line of scrimmage this season, after averaging 61.5 plays per game in 2011.

Samford’s play selection is very balanced, having so far this campaign rushed the ball 188 times while attempting 185 passes. Last year the Birmingham Bulldogs rushed 436 times and threw 396 passes.

The statistic that most correlates to winning and losing for Samford over the past season and a half is offensive rushing yardage. In ten victories, the rushing yardage totals have been as follows: 304, 160, 181, 348, 303, 113 (that was against The Citadel), 150, 227, 135, and 174. In five losses (not counting the Auburn game): 61, 34, 84, 92, and 63 (last week at Georgia Southern).

Samford runs the “Bear” defense against triple option teams. At his weekly press conference, Kevin Higgins described the defense:

The “Bear” front is basically when you cover up the center and both guards and then you have what we would call outside linebackers that are off of the offensive tackles…then out on the perimeter…when we bring our receivers in they are going to take their corners and press a little bit. They are going to take their “mike” linebacker and he’s going to be the guy to try to get from sideline to sideline because they keep him covered up as they cover [up] your five offensive linemen…their safety is also in the middle of the field, single high, and he’s going to be running hard on plays.

Higgins noted that the defense makes it harder “to get the B-Back going” because of the number of players on the inside.

Samford against the SoCon’s triple option teams over the past few seasons:

2010 The Citadel 119 rushing yards allowed (2.7 ypc)
2010 Wofford 360 rushing yards allowed (6.2 ypc)
2010 Georgia Southern 122 rushing yards allowed (2.4 ypc)
2011 The Citadel 248 rushing yards allowed (5.1 ypc)
2011 Wofford 443 rushing yards allowed (6.8 ypc)
2011 Georgia Southern 263 rushing yards allowed (5.4 ypc)
2012 Georgia Southern 360 rushing yards allowed (6.8 ypc)

In that game last week against GSU, Samford allowed touchdown runs of 41, 67, and 40 yards.

Nicholas Williams was a preseason all-conference choice on the defensive line. The 310-lb. DT is likely to be a key player in Saturday’s game, as is noseguard Jerry Mathis (who tips the scales at 292 lbs.). While there is beef in the middle, one of Samford’s starting defensive ends (Brinson Porter) only weighs 211 lbs.

Samford has a great deal of experience in the linebacking corps. All three starters are seniors. The aptly-named Keith Shoulders will have to shoulder a considerable load on Saturday at middle linebacker. His backup, Justin Shade, is the son of secondary coach Sam Shade, who some may remember from his days as a star safety at Alabama and in the NFL. The  younger Shade may be a backup on the depth chart, but he recorded 63 tackles last season, second on the team.

The leading tackler last year was strong safety Alvin Hines II, another preseason all-league pick (on the second team). The other starting safety, Jaquiski Tartt, was merely the SoCon’s defensive player of the month for September.

Tartt already has 51 tackles this season (25 solo stops), along with two interceptions. He also returned a fumble 80 yards for a score against Georgia Southern.

Samford has very good special teams units. Earlier I mentioned Truss and Hawkins, both of whom are dangerous return men. The Birmingham Bulldogs also boast reliable placekicker Cameron Yaw and have a solid punter in Greg Peranich.

Last season’s game between the two teams turned on two blocked field goals by Samford (one by Hines). This year’s special teams battle will be a tough one for The Citadel.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday’s game will be Youth Day at Seibert Stadium. Any youth football player or cheerleader who attends the game in uniform will be admitted for free.

– Samford has won its last five games after a loss.

– Samford has just concluded a three-game road trip, one that ended with its players still in an exam period. Students at the Birmingham school began fall break on Friday.

– The Citadel is the least-penalized team in the Southern Conference (in terms of yardage) by a considerable margin. Samford has been penalized more (in terms of yardage) than any SoCon team, also by a considerable margin.

– Samford leads the league in the following categories: kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, punt return average, sacks, interceptions, defensive pass efficiency, and turnover margin.

– With regards to turnover margin, Samford is currently at +7 and is on pace for a fifth consecutive year of a positive turnover margin (previous four years: +7, +9, +1, +14).

– The Citadel is next-to-last in the SoCon in 3rd-down conversion defense. That has to improve, as the Bulldogs D has to be able to get off the field. Not surprisingly given that stat, The Citadel is also next-to-last in first downs allowed (and also next-to-last in offensive first downs).

One way to improve The Citadel’s third-down issues on defense is to stop the run, something the Bulldogs have at times struggled to do so far this year. Against Samford, that becomes even more important. The Birmingham Bulldogs don’t have the true running threat at QB that is associated with a lot of teams that run the Gus Malzahn style of offense, but make up for it with their running backs.

Stopping those RBs on Saturday will be a difficult task, particularly with the loss of Carl Robinson for the season due to a knee injury. Ian Thompson will step into the starting lineup in Robinson’s absence; Yemi Oyegunle and Doyen Harris will also see more action, per Kevin Higgins. I hope they tackle well. I hope the whole team improves its tackling, for that matter.

One positive from last week’s loss to Chattanooga was the passing game, which was reasonably effective and efficient. Indeed, Triple O’Higgins is second in the league in offensive pass efficiency. As I wrote in my review of the UTC game, I think The Citadel should be in run-run-run mode when feasible, but I think the game against Samford may present the military college with an opportunity to call some play-action passes.

Saturday’s game at Samford is going to be a very tough assignment for The Citadel. It may be a challenge too difficult for the cadets to overcome.

On the other hand, it is also an opportunity. The team can essentially wipe away the disappointment of the UTC loss with a victory over Samford. If that happens, it also stamps The Citadel as a legitimate contender in the Southern Conference.

That isn’t something you could say about The Citadel in recent years. It would be nice to be able to say it this season.

One more round.

2011 Football Game 10: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 12.  The contest will be televised on the SoCon Network, with play-by-play by Darren Goldwater (formerly the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) and analysis by Doug Chapman. It is also available via the ESPN3.com platform. The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with current “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak

This is another “combo” post, with a brief review of the Georgia Southern game and a preview of the Samford contest.

Georgia Southern 14, The Citadel 12.

There isn’t a whole lot to add to what has already been said and written about the game. I’ll just make a few points:

— In my preview of the game I devoted the better part of two paragraphs to Brent Russell, Georgia Southern’s star nosetackle. I expected him to be a major factor in the game, so news that he wasn’t going to play gave me hope that the Bulldogs could establish themselves offensively. I thought he was that important, and I think the way the game went bore that out. The Citadel rushed for a respectable 239 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Russell’s absence surely had an impact on the Bulldogs’ ability to gain yards up the middle, as Darien Robinson had an outstanding afternoon, rushing for 92 yards and a TD on only nine carries. Good teams take advantage of opportunities, and I felt in this respect The Citadel did just that.

— While there was some focus on the missed field goal at the end of the game, that wasn’t what bothered me (especially with the wind issues). The two blocked PATs were what bothered me. It is unacceptable to have one PAT blocked in a game, much less two. Field goals are going to be missed from time to time, but PATs should be all but automatic.

The Citadel has done a lot of good things in the area of special teams this season, most notably the Bulldogs’ punt-blocking exploits. Cass Couey has had a fine year, and even the kick return teams have improved over the last three games (including Kevin Hardy’s tone-setting 50-yard return to open up the festivities in Statesboro).

The Bulldogs are still struggling with kick coverage and placekicking, however, and that isn’t all on the kickers, not by a long shot. Those struggles are also, unfortunately, not a one-year aberration. Thinking about this game, I remembered that I had written about another game against Georgia Southern that got away from The Citadel three years ago. That one also came down to placekicking problems.

The Citadel does not have much margin for error when playing football in the Southern Conference. It cannot afford to lose a game or two each season because of a recurring problem that should be correctable.

I’m not saying it’s easy, because it’s not. Alabama probably just lost a shot at making the BCS title game because Nick Saban didn’t have a placekicker on the roster capable of making long field goals under pressure — and that’s at tradition-rich Alabama, with 85 scholarships at its disposal (not even taking oversigning into account). Bobby Bowden and Florida State lost a couple of mythical crowns in the early 1990s because of an unreliable kicking game.

Despite those examples, your typical 50-year-old male thinks he can roll out of bed and make a 35-yard field goal. That’s just the way the position (and overall placekicking unit) is perceived.

— Okay, now for something tangentially related, but still worth following (at least, I think so)…

Some fans of the Bulldogs may remember that The Post and Courier elected not to send a beat writer for The Citadel’s game at Western Carolina three weeks ago. This was the first time in recent memory that the newspaper had not covered a SoCon football game involving The Citadel. The decision was reportedly not made by the sports department.

At the time, I wrote:

Obviously these are tough times for the newspaper business, so it’s not shocking the paper would cut an occasional corner.  This time it came at the expense of coverage for The Citadel’s football team, which should be a concern for any fan of the military college.

I’m hopeful it was just a one-time thing…

It appears to have been just that, for now. Jeff Hartsell was in Statesboro on Saturday.

The reason I am bringing this up again is that I noticed The Post and Courier sent two reporters to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to cover the South Carolina-Arkansas game. Both Gamecocks beat writer Darryl Slater (a recent hire by the paper) and general sports columnist Gene Sapakoff were at that contest.

It occurs to me that Cullowhee is a lot closer to Charleston than Fayetteville…

It probably doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something to watch.

Pat Sullivan knew he had to make some changes to Samford’s offense after last season, one in which a good defense could not make up for a less than dynamic offense. In 2010, the Birmingham Bulldogs averaged just over 10 points per game at home and finished 4-7 (despite an upset over Georgia Southern). The final game of the season was a 13-12 home loss to The Citadel.

Sullivan brought in several new coaches, with the key hire being 28-year-old Rhett Lashlee, a protege of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Lashlee has installed the hurry-up/spread system run by Malzahn, the same offensive philosophy employed by fellow Malzahn acolyte Chad Morris of Clemson.

Thus, Samford’s meat-and-potatoes attack of years past has been replaced by an offense that spreads the field and tries to run 80 plays from scrimmage per game. It has been, for the most part, successful. Samford is averaging over 30 points per game, ranking third in the SoCon in scoring offense, total offense, and passing offense. It is also fifth in the league in rushing offense, a very respectable placement considering the three triple-option attacks in the conference tend to dominate that statistical category.

Samford has scored at least 17 points in every Southern Conference game this season, a far cry from last year. However, Sullivan’s squad has not been as strong defensively, perhaps in part because of the nature of the offense (Samford’s opponents have a time of possession advantage of close to five minutes). Samford is seventh in the league in scoring defense, next-to-last in total defense, and next-to-last in pass defense (though that is misleading, as it is second in defensive pass efficiency).

Samford has allowed at least 21 points in every SoCon game this season. The second half of games has occasionally been problematic, as the team has allowed 21 second-half points to both Furman and Wofford, and 24 to Georgia Southern.

In Samford’s five wins, the Birmingham Bulldogs have rushed for 304, 160, 181, 348 (Elon), and 303 yards. In its four losses, the rushing totals have been 61, 34 (Wofford), 84, and 92.

If that’s not a key indicator, I don’t know what is.

As far as how the Samford defense has fared against the other triple-option offenses in the league, Wofford rushed for 443 yards, while Georgia Southern’s ground attack put up 263. Both of those schools controlled the running game on both sides of the ball. I think a good goal for Triple O’Higgins would be an average of those two rush totals — 353 yards.

If you think Dustin Taliaferro has been Samford’s quarterback for a long time, you would be correct. He’s been taking snaps for Samford since 2008. The new offense seems to be to his liking (Kevin Higgins called him “much improved”). He is completing almost 62% of his passes this season, with 12 TDs against 8 interceptions. He threw three of those TDs against Furman.

Fabian Truss also had a good game against the Paladins, rushing for 136 yards. He was even better the next week against Elon, piling up 191 rushing yards in that game. Sullivan noted that Truss was hurt last week against Chattanooga, a game in which he carried the ball ten times for 46 yards. It was the fourth consecutive game in which his rush attempts from scrimmage had declined. Despite that, Truss still leads the SoCon in all-purpose yardage (he is averaging almost 30 yards per kick return).

Taliaferro’s primary receiving targets are Kelsey Pope (56 catches, five for touchdowns) and Riley Hawkins (33 receptions, two TDs). Hawkins is also Samford’s main punt returner, and he’s a very good one, leading the league in punt return average (11.7 yards). Samford has outstanding kick return teams and also has a solid placekicker in Cameron Yaw, who has made 18 of 23 field goals.

Samford will be motivated to win this game in part because a victory would clinch a winning season for the visitors from Birmingham. If Samford loses to The Citadel, it would have to win its season finale to get that elusive sixth victory. That last game, though, is at Auburn.

This is going to be a tough matchup for The Citadel. It is a winnable game, to be sure. Of course, that has been the case for the Bulldogs most of the season, which in itself is suggestive of the improvement the team has made this year.

It is also Homecoming, so a fairly sizeable crowd should be on hand. I hope that a significant portion of those in attendance actually wander into Johnson Hagood Stadium to watch the game. It should be a good one.

Congratulations to all the reunion year classes, particularly the Class of 1961, which is having its 50th-year celebration.

I’ll be at the game this Saturday. I won’t be at any of the reunions, but I’ll be in the stands, rooting on the home team. The weather forecast for Charleston is promising. I hope things are just as sunny for the Bulldogs.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Samford

I’ll just begin this post with some assorted trivia about Samford:

  • Samford was called Howard College until 1965.  At that time, the school became a university, but in an effort to avoid being mistaken for Howard University (of Washington, DC) the name was changed to Samford.
  • Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school, and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines.
  • Samford played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.  Samford also played in the first night game at Legion Field (in 1928), losing 12-7 to Spring Hill.
  • Samford’s football program wasn’t afraid to travel in the 1920s.  The Bulldogs (formerly the Baptist Tigers) played Duquesne in Pittsburgh (at Forbes Field), North Dakota in Grand Forks, and Havana National University (in Cuba).  Samford also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963.
  • Bobby Bowden is Samford’s most famous football alum, and he also coached at the school, compiling a record of 31-6 over four seasons.  His son Terry is the winningest coach at Samford, with a record of 45-23-1, including FCS playoff appearances in 1991 and 1992.  Samford advanced to the semifinals in ’91.
  • Terry Bowden had been the head coach at Salem College before getting the Samford job, and his quarterback at Salem transferred to Samford to join him.  That quarterback?  Jimbo Fisher, who would throw 34 touchdown passes in his one season at Samford as a player. 
  • Fisher remained at the school as an assistant coach until Terry Bowden was hired at Auburn following the 1992 season.  He is now, of course, the “Head Coach In Waiting” at Florida State.

This will be the third meeting between the Birmingham Bulldogs and the shako-wearing Bulldogs.  The first matchup, in 1989, was the first game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo blew through Charleston; I wrote about that event when I previewed last year’s game.

That meeting last season in Birmingham did not go well for The Citadel.  Samford essentially mauled the visitors, 28-10, dominating the line of scrimmage.  Samford netted 232 yards rushing.  The Citadel?  2.  Yikes.

It was a nightmarish game all the way around, and it wasn’t even Halloween.  Samford’s first touchdown drive was helped along by three major penalties from The Citadel’s defense.  Chris Evans scored that TD and one other to go along with 174 yards rushing.  Samford had more than a 2-to-1 edge in first-half time of possession. 

Samford stuck to the ground for the most part, but occasionally threw the ball, as Dustin Taliaferro was 13-19 for 117 yards and a TD. 

The starting quarterback for The Citadel in that game was Cam Turner.  Bart Blanchard also played.  Neither of those two QBs will be taking snaps on Saturday (although Turner will continue to hold on placekicks), as Miguel Starks gets the nod again following his auspicious debut as a starter against Furman.

He will face a Samford defense that is big, physical, and which ranks among the national leaders in FCS in several defensive categories.  The Birmingham Bulldogs are fourth nationally in total defense (241.6 yards per game), sixth in rushing defense (81.6 ypg), and tenth in scoring defense (allowing less than 15 points per contest).  Junior linebacker Bryce Smith (who forced a fumble in last year’s game against The Citadel) is an outstanding player who must be accounted for at all times.

Samford has allowed only four plays of 30 yards or more in seven games and has only given up seven points in the fourth quarter all season.

On offense, Samford likes to establish the run, taking advantage of a huge offensive line.  Four of the five starters weigh more than 300 pounds, with right guard Thomas Gray checking in at 6’4”, 332.  The only non-300 lb. lineman among the starters is a “true” freshman, 6’4”, 275 lb. George Allers.  I’m guessing he’s going to get even bigger.

Much of the offense goes through running back Evans, who is averaging over 92 yards per game on the ground and also leads the team in receptions, with 26.  Evans was held to 47 yards rushing (on 14 carries) in Samford’s last game, against Furman (Samford was off last week).  In that game Samford fell behind early and had to rely on its passing attack in an effort to get back into the contest.

Taliaferro has thrown four touchdown passes this season, and has also thrown five interceptions.  Samford is averaging 5.4 yards per pass, and only 3.4 yards per rush, both numbers somewhat low (and surprisingly so, in the case of the rushing average).  Samford is generally not a big-play team (only five plays of more than 31 yards so far this season), and thus needs to sustain long drives, but Pat Sullivan’s Bulldogs are only converting 35% of their third-down opportunities.

Samford’s special teams appear to be better this season.  Freshman placekicker Cameron Yaw is 8-11 on FG attempts (one of the misses was blocked by Furman at the end of the game to preserve a two-point Paladin victory).

It will be interesting to see how Miguel Starks plays after his excellent performance last week.  Samford will present a different (and more difficult) challenge than did Furman.  A key will be avoiding turnovers, particularly on The Citadel’s half of the field.  Samford is not very dynamic on offense and is probably less likely to drive down the length of the field than Furman, so not giving the folks from Birmingham good field position is important. 

Punting, in this game, may not be such a bad thing.  It’s better than fumbling.

Even in last year’s loss, Andre Roberts managed to shine as usual, catching 8 passes for 100 yards and a TD.  I think Saturday’s game will be another opportunity for #5 to demonstrate (yet again) just how special a player he is. 

On defense, the Bulldogs must stop Evans from running all over them like he did last season.  Jordan Gilmore had 13 tackles in that game, one for loss.  More tackles for loss, to put Samford in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, would be helpful (of course, you could say that every week). 

Last year The Citadel sacked Taliaferro just one time and only had two official “hurries”.  The defense created no turnovers and was only credited with one pass breakup.  That was mostly due to Samford not being in a position where it had to throw the ball, just another reason why stopping the run is a must.

This is not likely to be a high-scoring game.  I don’t know which Bulldog team is going to show up, the one that played Appalachian State and Furman, or the one that stumbled against Elon and Western Carolina. 

The game is at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and the weather is supposed to be nice (mostly sunny, high of 82).  Attendance for the Furman game was a little better than I expected, honestly…not as good as a Parents’ Day game could be, but not too bad all things considered.  That bodes well for attendance this Saturday. 

Those in the stands to watch the battle of the Bulldogs are probably going to see a very competitive game.  I think The Citadel can win this game, but I’m worried about Samford having two weeks to prepare and possibly coming out with a revised offensive game plan.  On Halloween, you always have to worry about tricks, even while you’re dreaming of the treats.  We’ll see what Pat Sullivan and company have in store for The Citadel on Saturday.

It’s Samford, not Stanford

Samford (not Stanford) is the opposition for The Citadel on Saturday.  What do we know about Samford?

Well, we know that Samford is located in a Birmingham suburb.  We know the sports teams at Samford are called the Bulldogs, just like The Citadel’s.  We know that the football team plays its games at Seibert Stadium, and that it is coached by Pat Sullivan, who once won the Heisman Trophy.  We know that a long time ago, Bobby Bowden coached there, winning 31 games that count toward his career wins total, which makes a lot of Penn State fans angry.

We also know that Samford was once called Howard, but when it became a university, it changed its name in part to avoid confusion with Howard University in Washington, DC, and now everyone just gets it confused with Stanford instead.

The Citadel and Samford have met once before in football, in 1989, and apparently neither sports media relations department is sure what the score was.  The Citadel’s game notes list scores of 35-16 and 35-17 in different parts of the first page of the release, while Samford’s notes mention the score twice as well — 35-16 in one instance, and 36-16 in the other.

The score was 35-16.  Trust me, I was there…

It was the first game played in Johnson Hagood Stadium after Hurricane Hugo damaged the stadium, and decimated much of the surrounding area, in September of 1989.  A crowd of 15,214 (!) watched a reasonably entertaining game that saw The Citadel take control in the second half, outscoring Samford 14-0 in the third and fourth quarters.  The Citadel, in full wishbone mode, only attempted two passes, completing one of them for 16 yards.  The military Bulldogs rushed 69 times for 402 yards, with both Jack Douglas and Tom Frooman (three touchdowns on the day) rushing for over 100 yards.  Raymond Mazyck added 92 yards, and Kingstree legend Alfred Williams chipped in with 55 of his own.  Samford had a much more balanced attack, with 148 yards passing and 141 yards rushing, but lost the time of possession battle by almost 10 minutes and also committed both of the game’s turnovers.  Samford would go on to finish the season with a 4-7 record.

It would be the last victory of a surreal season for The Citadel.  The campaign included two games played at Williams-Brice Stadium following the hurricane.  The first one of those, against South Carolina State, was shaping up to be much-hyped contest, but wound up as almost an afterthought.  However, I believe it’s still the only football game The Citadel has ever played to have been featured in The Nation.  The other game at Williams-Brice, against Western Carolina, resulted in the final tie in the school’s football history.  The Citadel started the season 4-0, including a win at Navy in which the winning score was set up by a Middie punt that went for -5 yards (the winds from the remnants of the hurricane had something to do with that).  However, the almost inevitable slide after Hugo blew through left the Bulldogs with a final record of 5-5-1.

Back to this year’s game.  When the season began, I suspect most supporters of The Citadel were penciling in Samford as a probable win.  It’s now anything but, as the Bulldogs (Charleston version) have struggled to run the ball on offense and have struggled stopping the run or pass on defense, particularly on the road.  In three road games The Citadel has allowed an average of 42 points and 477 yards of total offense.

Samford has been surprisingly competitive in the conference so far, winning at Western Carolina easily while giving Elon (at Elon) all it wanted and acquitting itself well in an 11-point loss to Appalachian State.  Samford running back Chris Evans has rushed for over 100 yards in all three conference games, including 166 yards against Western Carolina.  He’s averaging a shade over 120 yards rushing per game.  Evans transferred to Samford from UAB.

Samford has an odd turnover statistic.  In its three wins Samford has turned the ball over eight times.  In its three losses Samford has turned the ball over only twice.

Defensively, Samford has been pretty good against the run, but has allowed significant passing yardage, including 307 yards to Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State (3 TDs) and 291 to Scott Riddle of Elon (2 TDs, one of which went for 91 yards).  Edwards had a 76% completion percentage as well.  Division II West Georgia also had success throwing the ball against Samford.

If The Citadel is to win this game, it must contain Evans.  The best way to do this is control the ball, which won’t be easy (Samford leads the SoCon in time of possession).  Bart Blanchard needs to play with confidence and authority (which he didn’t do against Furman), Andre Roberts needs to break off at least two big plays, and one of the running backs must step forward.  The defense has to get some takeaways, too.  In seven games so far, The Citadel has only forced nine turnovers (two interceptions, seven fumbles).

It’s going to be tough.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen tomorrow afternoon.