2018 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Towson

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

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

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview from The Post and Courier 

– Feature on Rod Johnson from The Post and Courier

The Citadel is back on the SoCon map

– Game notes from The Citadel and Towson

– SoCon weekly release

“Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

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

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

The Bulldog Breakdown

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

– Boxscore from Towson-Villanova

Towson will wear special gold jerseys on Saturday

Whoa…basketball season is almost here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 7. The game will streamed on ESPN3.com, with play-by-play from Darren Goldwater and analysis by Paul Maguire. It can also be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Links of interest:

My (very brief) review post from Game 1

The Citadel’s game notes

Wofford’s game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference — Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference — Mike Ayers

The Kevin Higgins Show (YouTube)

There are a lot of things that can be said about the season opener against Charleston Southern, almost none of them positive from The Citadel’s perspective.

First and foremost, I want to focus on the last 65 seconds of the first half.

The situation:

The Citadel led 16-7, but Charleston Southern had scored on its previous possession (a 64-yard TD pass) and then forced a three-and-out from the Bulldogs offense. After a long punt return blunted by a personal foul penalty, CSU had the ball at midfield, first-and-10, with 1:05 to play in the first half. The Buccaneers had no timeouts remaining.

On first down, a sack moved the ball back to the CSU 41-yard line. At that point, head coach Kevin Higgins called his first timeout of the half. Why?

Higgins explained later:

We’re thinking, we’ll call a timeout, go block a punt before the half. We’ve done that for the last three years, used the same kind of strategy, see if we can block a punt or get a drive at the end of the half.

Charleston Southern gained nine yards on its next play, setting up third-and-10 at the 50. The clock kept running, and The Citadel did not use a timeout.

I’m not sure why you wouldn’t call the second timeout if the idea was to have time left to block a punt or set up a return. It wasn’t like it was third-and-1. It was third-and-10.

That decision led to several things, none of which were good for The Citadel. First, CSU essentially got a “free shot” at making a big play on offense with the clock running out, and the Bulldogs were lucky that the Bucs narrowly missed connections on a pass over the middle that would have gone for big yardage (if not a TD).

That incompletion stopped the clock with less than 20 seconds to play in the half. On fourth down, CSU punted. The Citadel did not rush the punter (I went back and looked at the video to make sure). A return was not exactly set up either (a fair catch was called prior to the muff). Why anyone was even back to attempt to catch the punt strikes me as a fair question.

If the timeout had not been called after first down, the half would have ended without a punt even occurring. Instead, the Bulldogs were put in a position to fail with no realistic potential for success.

After the fumble recovery, Charleston Southern had the ball at the Bulldog 19-yard line with 12 seconds left in the half, and no timeouts. The one thing the defense can’t give up in that situation is a TD pass.

Tackle the receiver before the ball gets to him if that’s what it takes to stop the completion. In the worst-case scenario, pass interference would have put the ball at the Bulldog 4 and left the Bucs only one play (possibly two) before the half, which likely would have been a field goal attempt. The defense just can’t let a pass be completed in the end zone there.

I understand you’re asking a player to do something that would probably be against his instincts as a defender. It’s also possible the coaches discussed the strategy (The Citadel called its second timeout after the punt) and it wasn’t properly executed. For those reasons, I’m not bothered as much by the TD play as I am the game management that preceded the punt.

At any rate, the last minute of the first half was the key sequence in the game, and it was badly mishandled by The Citadel.

There were other missteps, too. The Citadel went for two points too early (though that was at least somewhat defensible). The playcalling, particularly on the final offensive series, left a lot to be desired.

The defense let CSU saunter right down the field to open the third quarter, as easy a TD drive as you could want, and gave up the aforementioned long TD pass on a badly blown coverage. There were other forgettable moments, too.

That end-of-half debacle, though…that’s a hard one to shake off.

It was nice of Kevin Higgins to talk about the “great job” Jamey Chadwell and his staff did in preparing for the game, but his comments did not exactly make Bulldog fans feel better. Also, I’m sure Chadwell is a good coach, but he’s the same guy who elected to punt on fourth-and-6 from the Bulldog 34 in the second quarter, with his team down two scores.

Punting from inside your opponent’s 35 in that situation (or almost any situation) is a decidedly sub-optimal strategy. I’m not convinced yet that Chadwell is the Albert Einstein of college football, which makes the whole ‘it was hard for our offense because they used a bunch of defensive fronts’ thing all the more galling.

With all due respect to Charleston Southern, this game wasn’t about the Buccaneers doing anything particularly exceptional. It was about The Citadel handing CSU the contest on a silver platter with fancy trimmings. It wasn’t a “disappointing loss”; it was a disastrous, unacceptable one.

I’ll wait until a later time (perhaps next week) to write about some of the ancillary elements from last Saturday, including the noticeable lack of cheerleaders and the disappointing crowd attendance. I’m very curious to see if there will be any changes in terms of off-field activities.

For example, will the band be allowed to play following the kickoff? Sometimes during the game I forget The Citadel even has a band, to be honest.

This is the seventh time in the last eight years the game between The Citadel and Wofford is being televised over the air (SportSouth, SCETV, etc.) or streamed on ESPN3.com. For the second year in the row, the game is on ESPN3.com, and for the second year in the row the announcers are Darren Goldwater and Paul Maguire.

The Citadel’s 42-20 victory in the season finale against Furman last year was only the second time in the Kevin Higgins era that the Bulldogs had won a televised/ESPN3-streamed game. Goldwater was the gamecaller for ESPN3.com that day too (with analyst Doug Chapman). It would be novel to win two in a row on ESPN3.com.

The average score between Wofford and The Citadel had been 34-14 in the seven years prior to last year’s game, which was obviously much closer. Among other items of interest, Wofford was penalized for 59 yards in that contest, almost twice as many yards as the Terriers had been penalized against the Bulldogs in the previous four games combined.

However, Wofford did not commit a turnover against the Bulldogs last year. That has been a trouble spot for The Citadel over the past few years against all opponents, one that emerged again last Saturday when the Bulldogs failed to force a turnover against Charleston Southern.

It is hard to judge anything about Wofford based on its game against Baylor, which the Terriers lost 69-3. I believe that Baylor is going to be one of the elite offensive teams in the country this year, and a serious contender for the Big XII title. Very few teams are going to be able to handle the Bears’ speed and general offensive execution; Wofford certainly couldn’t.

If you want to see the Wofford-Baylor game for yourself, you can, and in an extremely handy 50-minute package: Link

Tangent: That video is part of something the Big XII does for all its games that is called “No Huddle”, a concept that is undeniably awesome. All the plays, none of the fluff, loaded up to YouTube the Monday after the games. More of that, please.

Wofford injury report:

There were no major injuries in the Baylor game.

That is in the Wofford game notes. However, from Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

Wofford halfbacks Cam Flowers and Ray Smith, who suffered concussions last week in the game at Baylor, will be tested Friday to see whether they can make the trip to The Citadel…

…Flowers, a third-year sophomore from Damascus, Ga., made his second career start Saturday against Baylor and had four carries for 13 yards. Smith, a true sophomore who is Dorman High School’s all-time leading rusher, had three carries for 15 yards. He was listed as the backup to the other starting halfback, sophomore Will Gay from T.L. Hanna. Octavius Harden, a sophomore from Conover, N.C., was behind Flowers.

Flowers and Smith were two of the eight Terriers who got carries against The Citadel in last year’s game. Gay and Harden also saw action in that contest (Gay scoring a touchdown).

Wofford has plenty of fullback/halfback types, so if Flowers and/or Smith can’t go, the Terriers should still be in good shape. Wofford also returns the two wideouts who caught passes against the Bulldogs (Jeff Ashley and Will Irwin).

Starting fullback Donovan Johnson rushed for 473 yards last season as the backup to now-graduated Eric Breitenstein. A lot of that yardage came from the halfback position, as Breitenstein (understandably) saw the bulk of the time at FB.

The Terriers only returned two starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad, but they’re both good ones. Jared Singleton and Ty Gregory were each named to the SoCon’s preseason all-conference first team. There is still competition for at least one spot along the Wofford line.

Then there is the quarterback position. With one year of eligibility remaining, Brian Kass elected to transfer to Coastal Carolina. With Kass out of the picture, three players have battled for the Terriers’ starting QB spot. James Lawson started two late-season games for Wofford last season and also opened behind center against Baylor. He will likely start against The Citadel, but both Evan Jacks and Michael Weimer are expected to play.

Wofford lost six starters off its defense, but returns preseason all-league pick Alvin Scioneaux at outside linebacker. Free safety James Zotto had six tackles against the Bulldogs last season, tied for the most by a Terrier in that game. Two of Wofford’s starters along the defensive line are back, including second-team SoCon selection Tarek Odom and 6’2″, 290-lb. noseguard E.J. Speller.

Starting defensive end Hunter Thurley (a redshirt freshman) is 6’4″, but listed at just 245 lbs. In general, Wofford’s d-line is undersized (Speller is a notable exception) and the linebackers are tall and rangy.

Kasey Redfern handles all the kicking duties for the Terriers. Will Gay is Wofford’s punt returner and is usually joined on kickoffs by Cameron Flowers, though Flowers’ status will be in doubt up until gametime.

Odds and ends:

– I am not a big fan of Ben Dupree returning punts. I’ll hope for the best.

– Based on the two-deep in The Citadel’s game notes, it appears Tyler Renew may not get cleared by the NCAA in time for Saturday’s game. Shaunn Middleton is listed as Darien Robinson’s backup. Incidentally, Renew was listed in last week’s game notes as the second-team B-Back.

– Nick Jeffreys is listed as the tight end on the two-deep. No other player is listed at the position.

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium for Wofford’s past four visits: 11,290 (2005), 14,879 (2007), 15,155 (2009 — Homecoming), 12,316 (2011)

The last time Wofford entered the game against The Citadel with as many questions as the Terriers have this season, it was 2009. That wasn’t an early-season situation, though. In 2009, Wofford suffered through a series of injuries and finished with a 3-8 record.

One of those three victories was a 43-17 win over the Bulldogs, as listless a Homecoming performance from The Citadel as I’ve ever seen in person at Johnson Hagood Stadium. I am not sure what to expect from The Citadel in this year’s game, but it better not resemble anything like that.

I don’t think it will. I expect the Bulldogs to come out fired up and ready to prove something.

That doesn’t mean I expect a victory, though. A win for The Citadel on Saturday night is probably not in the cards.

Having said that: while I’m frustrated, and a little disgusted, and not all that confident the team can recover from its opening-night failure…I’m not giving up on this team. It’s my team, no matter what.

I’ll be cheering them on at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday night, and I hope many other people will be doing the same.

2012 Football, Week 8: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 27.  The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Paul Maguire supplying the analysis. It can also 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 roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Wofford game notes

SoCon weekly release

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against Western Carolina), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 10/22 press conference quotes

Mike Ayers on this week’s SoCon teleconference

Parking map for Gibbs Stadium

Catching up with…all-SoCon punter and fisherman Cass Couey

Catch up with Darien Robinson, too

This is the sixth time in the last seven years the game between The Citadel and Wofford will be on TV and/or ESPN3.com. It has been on SportSouth, it has been on SCETV, and now it’s on ESPN3, the second time the Bulldogs have been on that streaming service this season.

Paul Maguire was the analyst when The Citadel played NC State, and he will be again on Saturday. During the NCSU game he claimed in jest that his partner in the booth, Mike Gleason, was the offspring of Jackie Gleason. Perhaps this week he will try to suggest that Darren Goldwater is the son of Barry Goldwater. We can only hope.

While I can’t find the records (which is driving me crazy), I believe that The Citadel has only won one televised game during the Kevin Higgins era. It would be nice to turn that around this weekend.

Kevin Higgins has had no answers for Wofford. In the seven games the Bulldogs have played the Terriers since he became head coach of The Citadel, Wofford has won by an average score of 34-14, never failing to put at least 28 points on the board. It doesn’t matter if the Terriers have been good or bad (the 2009 team was 3-8 but still beat The Citadel by 26).

Last year, I wrote about what I felt was a possible lack of defensive aggression for The Citadel when it plays Wofford. In last season’s matchup, Wofford did not commit a turnover, and also was not penalized. That’s a rare combination. Of course, Wofford almost never gets penalized against The Citadel.

In the last four meetings between the two teams, the Terriers have committed a total of five penalties, for thirty yards (and one of the penalties was an intentional delay-of-game to set up a punt).

While I think the Bulldog D needs to be more aggressive, I am not sure it can afford to be. As everyone knows, The Citadel is starting to run out of linebackers, with Yemi Oyegunle the latest to be lost for the season. Oyegunle has a torn groin muscle, which does not sound particularly pleasant.

Getting the injury-ravaged defense ready for Wofford is going to be a tall order, even with an extra week to prepare. I am not overly confident on that front, especially after watching Western Carolina’s offense go up and the down the field against the Bulldogs two weeks ago.

One positive I came up with after crunching some numbers: The Citadel has generally not let a loss to Wofford ruin the rest of the season. The Bulldogs are only 2-5 during Higgins’ tenure after losing to the Terriers, but the overall record post-Wofford in that seven-year time frame is a respectable 13-13.

Wofford leads the league (and the nation) in rushing offense, at 408.3 yards per game. The Terriers also lead the SoCon in total offense, scoring offense, punt return average, field goal percentage (a perfect 8-8), offensive third-down conversion percentage, turnover margin, and both “red zone” offense and defense scoring percentage.

Wofford is second in the conference in offensive pass efficiency, penalties, and offensive sacks allowed (no surprise that the three league triple option teams are 1-2-3 in the last category).

All of that is very impressive, and goes a long way to explaining the Terriers’ 6-1 record. The only caveat is Wofford’s early-season schedule did not feature particularly strong opposition. Wofford has played Gardner-Webb, Lincoln (a Division II school located in Pennsylvania), Western Carolina, Elon, Furman, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State (in that order).

The Terriers rushed for 402 yards against Gardner-Webb and actually increased their rushing yardage totals for each of the next two weeks. That isn’t easy to do when you start off with a 400-yard effort. Wofford rushed for 449 yards against Lincoln and a staggering 590 yards versus Western Carolina.

The following week, Elon “held” the Terriers to 500 yards rushing. Running back Eric Breitenstein had a 321-yard rushing day for the Terriers in that game. Rushing totals for Wofford in its last three games: 303 (against Furman), 221 (Georgia Southern, a game the Terriers lost 17-9), and 393 (Appalachian State).

Nobody has stopped Breitenstein yet this season. He only carried the ball five times against Lincoln because there was no need to use him, but he has rushed for at least 150 yards in four of Wofford’s other six games, and ran for over 100 yards in the other two contests.

While Breitenstein has been a constant, Wofford is going to be challenged over the remainder of the season to maintain its offensive efficiency, due to the loss of some key players due to injury. Left tackle Calvin Cantrell will miss his second straight game on Saturday due to a concussion, while slotback Donovan Johnson and backup quarterback Michael Weimer (who has played quite a bit for the Terriers) are also not expected to see the field.

Jared Singleton, Wofford’s center, is hurt but listed on the two-deep and will probably play. Left guard Tymeco Gregory also got banged up in the game against Appalachian State, but is expected to start.

The injury list for Wofford extends to its defense, as linebacker Kevin Thomas (who has started three games for the Terriers and is third on the team in tackles) will not play against The Citadel. Another linebacker, Phillip LeGrande (who has started all seven games), also may not play against the Bulldogs. Defensive end Zach Bobb started Wofford’s first five games of the season, but injured his knee against Furman and is out for the season.

Wofford placekicker Christian Reed missed the game against Appalachian State with a quad injury but is listed as the starter on the two-deep for this week’s contest. Punter Kasey Redfern replaced him against the Mountaineers and made his only FG try (29 yards).

There is a touch of uncertainty with Wofford’s injury list. For example, while Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal tweeted that Weimer would be out for the game against the Bulldogs, he is still listed on the depth chart. Just keep that in mind.

If Weimer doesn’t go, that doesn’t mean starting quarterback Brian Kass will play the whole game, according to Mike Ayers. Third-string QB James Lawson will likely get some snaps on Saturday.

Incidentally, Wofford has had eighteen different players carry the ball this season. Twelve of them have at least one rush for more than twenty yards.

Among other Terriers of note: offensive right tackle Jake Miles (a preseason all-SoCon selection), outside linebacker Alvin Scioneaux (also a preseason first team pick), and inside linebacker Mike Niam, a force when healthy (he has suffered multiple knee injuries while at Wofford).

Fellow inside linebacker Mike McCrimon leads the Terriers in tackles. Defensive end Tarek Odom’s 40-yard fumble return for a TD sealed the Terriers’ win over Appalachian State. E.J. Speller is a 290-lb. redshirt freshman nosetackle who is having a fine season; he will be a key factor on Saturday.

Wofford’s defense held each of its first four opponents under 100 yards rushing. Last week, the Terriers held the Mountaineers to 106 yards rushing (363 total yards).

Odds and ends:

— Wofford’s sideline reporter for its radio broadcasts is Van Hipp, Jr. If that name sounds familiar to Low Country residents, it’s because he ran for Congress about two decades ago. Hipp wound up in a primary runoff for the seat in the 1st Congressional District, but lost to a political newcomer named Mark Sanford.

— Saturday’s game will be Wofford’s Homecoming, which means The Citadel will play in two consecutive Homecoming games, Wofford’s and its own.

— Wofford is undefeated this season when it loses the coin toss (4-0).

The 1959 game between The Citadel and Wofford was the last game in the series to be played in Orangeburg, at the County Fairgrounds. The game was played on “Big Friday” and only drew 8,000 spectators, a disappointing showing that probably led to the end of neutral-site contests between the two schools. The Citadel won 40-8; six different Bulldogs scored touchdowns in the game.

Wofford would not play The Citadel again until 1967, possibly because of a disagreement between the two coaches, Eddie Teague of The Citadel and Wofford’s Conley Snidow. Snidow accused Teague of running up the score, a charge the Bulldogs coach vehemently denied.

Not only did Snidow complain about a late touchdown scored by The Citadel (even though the TD came after Wofford had fumbled the ball on its own five-yard-line), he belittled the Bulldogs’ victory, saying it came against one of his lesser squads. There may have been some previous bad blood between the two men, as The Citadel had already announced it was suspending the series.

The 1967 contest was the only time The Citadel played Wofford between 1959 and 1975.

By the way, the main photo accompanying the game story features “Broadway Billy” Hughes, and the first paragraph of the article itself describes teammate Billy Whaley as “The Citadel’s vice president in charge of touchdowns”. Ah, those were the days.

For anyone wondering, Paul Maguire did play in the game. He did not score, but caught three passes for forty yards and punted three times, averaging 43 yards per kick.

I’ll be honest. I don’t have a good feeling about the upcoming game, not from The Citadel’s perspective. While Wofford is struggling with injuries of its own, the Terriers have more than their fair share of proven depth. They have options.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are painfully thin at linebacker, a problem exacerbated by (in my opinion) less than optimal play by the defensive line in recent weeks. If The Citadel is going to have any chance of winning Saturday’s matchup, the d-line has to make big plays. That hasn’t really happened in the last month or so.

Anyone who saw the game against Western Carolina has to cringe at the thought of the Bulldogs’ D versus an experienced (if beat up) offensive line and a steady quarterback like Brian Kass, with Eric Breitenstein ready to break loose at any point (he has 12 runs of 20+ yards already this season).

Am I pessimistic? Well, yes.

However, the team has to take a more positive approach. Wofford isn’t invincible, and the Bulldogs don’t need to play a perfect game to win on Saturday. They just have to play very, very well.

I’ll be in Spartanburg on Saturday. I may have my doubts, but I’ll be there. The Bulldogs were good enough to beat Georgia Southern and thrash Appalachian State in Boone. The potential is still there.

Now let’s make something of it.

Game Review, 2012: North Carolina State

North Carolina State 52, The Citadel 14.

Links of interest:

The Post and Courier game story

Notes from The Post and Courier

The News and Observer (Raleigh) game story

The News and Observer photo gallery

Box score

Postgame video with Kevin Higgins, plus Darien Robinson and Derek Douglas

I’m not going to write much about this game. I wasn’t there in person, as I brought a mild case of the flu back home from Chicago. Perhaps it was just as well, although I am disappointed I couldn’t go support a team that certainly deserves as much support as it can get.

I watched the ESPN3 feed of the game, which featured analysis by the one and only Paul Maguire, backed by play-by-play man Mike Gleason in the role of Abbott to Maguire’s Costello. For the record, Gleason is not Jackie Gleason’s son, as Maguire faux-claimed late in the broadcast. At least, I’m fairly sure he’s not…

Also, the ESPN3 graphic about Maguire near the game’s end was wrong to about the 4th power. Maguire, curiously, only seemed to care about the error regarding TD receptions, which I thought was funny.

I was a little surprised that the NC State offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage as easily as it did. Not shocked, but surprised. That is the kind of thing that tends to happen in an FBS vs. FCS matchup, though.

This loss doesn’t bother me too much. As long as none of the players for The Citadel suffered any major injuries, and the team doesn’t have a sudden loss of confidence because of the result, the outcome shouldn’t have an impact on any of the Bulldogs’ long-term goals for this season.

I get the sense that a few people get upset when the Bulldogs lose games against FBS teams by significant margins. They wonder why The Citadel can’t be more competitive with these teams. Often, a comparison is made to the glory days of the late 1980s-early 1990s.

However, that era was definitely an outlier in terms of the school’s history in these matchups. There are two remarkable things about the games The Citadel played against FBS teams from 1988 through 1992. One is that of the eight such contests played during that time, the Bulldogs threatened to win seven of them. The other, and perhaps more amazing statistic, is that the Bulldogs actually won six of those seven (the exception being the 1990 game versus Air Force, which the Falcons won 10-7).

The Citadel won six of eight games against FBS competition from 1988-92 despite having a negative point differential in those contests (thanks to losing the 1988 game against Duke 41-17).

Other than that six-year period, though, even being in the mix against larger schools has not happened too often. Sure, The Citadel beat Air Force soundly in 1976, and knocked off Vanderbilt in 1979. I’ve written about the great victory over South Carolina in 1950, and you can throw in the 0-0 tie against Florida State in 1960 as well. There have been close calls, too, like the game against the Gamecocks in 1984 or the Wyoming loss in 2002.

Most of the time, though, the games are more along the lines of  the “76 Trombones” game against Georgia in 1958, or the 52-0 loss to Vanderbilt in 1970, or the 61-0 setback at Maryland in 2003 — and none of those defeated squads were terrible (heck, the 2003 Bulldogs won six games).

There is hope, then there is reality. Expectations need to be managed.

Now as for the players, they are in a different category. I realize that the players are disappointed. They are competitors, after all. I wouldn’t expect anything less.

All that said, I think there are a few takeaways from the game worth mentioning. In no particular order:

– It was a tough night for special teams. Not only did the Bulldogs allow a punt return TD, the kickoff return team struggled, both in execution and decision-making. That unit needs to improve as The Citadel resumes SoCon play.

– Derek Douglas returned to the field. I was a little surprised to see him get snaps on Saturday, but he is now apparently ready for the stretch run. That is obviously great news for The Citadel.

– The Bulldogs didn’t tackle particularly well in this game.

– The triple option offense can work against any team. Even a well-coached outfit can have breakdowns, and if you make your blocks, and the opposing middle linebacker overruns the play, then Darien Robinson is going to have a very enjoyable sprint to the end zone.

On Robinson’s touchdown, I was interested in the fact that he actually went off-tackle as opposed to right up the middle, a slight alteration in play design that proved to be quite effective.

– Robinson rushed for 103 yards, becoming the first Bulldog to rush for over 100 yards against an FBS opponent since Nehemiah Broughton rushed for 175 yards against Wyoming in 2002. Robinson was the first Bulldog to rush for over 100 yards against an ACC team since Stanford Glenn rushed for 123 yards against Georgia Tech in 1982.

– Not that it matters, but NC State’s final touchdown of the first half should not have counted. Mike Glennon was the recipient of not one, but two pushes from his linemen towards the goal line, which is illegal. It was obvious, but the officials let it go. That said, I’m not losing sleep over it.

– The Citadel’s three starters at linebacker (Rah Muhammad, Carl Robinson, Carson Smith) combined to make 30 tackles, led by Robinson’s 13.

– Of Walker Smith’s six tackles, three came on special teams.

– A total of fifty-two Bulldogs saw action during the game.

It’s time to get back to SoCon action. Next up is Chattanooga, on Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium. I think the team is looking forward to that game. I know that I’m looking forward to it.

Moving on from Chapel Hill

It could have been better.  It could have been worse.  At any rate, it’s over.

The Citadel’s 40-6 loss to UNC was about what one would expect, given the matchup and the Bulldogs’ injury situation.  I won’t recap the entire game — there are many outlets where you can find game stories, including Jeff Hartsell’s story here.  Some stories from North Carolina papers can be found here, here, and here.

Quick observations, comments, etc.:

– I thought Bart Blanchard, despite his ankle injury, did a decent job of escaping pressure and avoiding sacks.  UNC only had two sacks (although one by Robert Quinn resulted in a fumble that led to a Heel TD).

Blanchard wasn’t quite as accurate with his passing as he needed to be, but he was placed in as difficult a situation as he will have all season as a quarterback.  I suspect he will improve his passing accuracy in games to come.  It’s important that he does so, as Kevin Higgins has pointed out.

– As advertised, North Carolina’s defense is very good.  Quinn, in particular, was outstanding throughout the game.  UNC fans might want to monitor the sack statistic during the season, however.  Sacks aren’t absolutely essential in order to have a quality defense, but I find it surprising that North Carolina doesn’t create more of them (only 22 last season).

– If UNC is going to win the ACC, which isn’t out of the question (although I think the Tar Heels are playing in the tougher division of that league, at least this year), its offense needs to create more big plays.  That aspect of the game didn’t seem to be there for North Carolina on Saturday.

– After UNC scored to take a 23-0 lead, The Citadel took over possession with 1:51 to go in the half and went into its two-minute offense.  The Bulldogs had only amassed 18 total yards in six previous possessions, but in hurry-up mode moved the ball 30 yards down the field before Blanchard was intercepted at the 2-yard line.  Up in the TV booth, Paul Maguire wondered aloud why the Heels were playing “prevent defense”.

It was a valid point, although it occurred to me that running a hurry-up offense in an effort to establish a different tempo might not have been a bad idea regardless of the time/score.  I wish The Citadel had tried it again in the second half.

– Speaking of Maguire (who was announcing the game for ESPN360, along with Bob Picozzi), I believe Saturday was the first time he had ever announced a game involving The Citadel.  Maguire has been a TV analyst for college and pro football games since 1971.

– Does The Citadel’s starting running back on Saturday prefer to be known as Lemuel Kennedy or Bucky Kennedy?  There needs to be a ruling on this.  Various outlets are referring to him as one or the other.  (Years ago, someone had to decide — Lyvonia or Stump?)

– You know it’s probably going to be a tough night for The Citadel when one of the Bulldogs’ starting safeties (Rod Harland) is knocked out of the game before The Citadel’s first defensive snap (and another defensive starter, Mel Capers, is held out of the game, for medical reasons not yet officially released).

– I cannot remember The Citadel wearing navy pants before Saturday’s game; that may have been the first time.  I respectfully suggest that it be the last time.  It’s not a good look.  It’s yet another uniform concept I don’t like, to go along with all the others detailed previously.

– Joseph Boateng wasn’t listed on the two-deep released for the UNC game, but he wound up intercepting two passes and making seven tackles.  Boating played on the scout team last year at Eastern Michigan.  From what I understand, he’s an academic sophomore, but athletically he’s a redshirt freshman (and he’s also a freshman within the corps of cadets).

After doing some quick research, it appears that Boating is the first freshman at The Citadel to intercept two passes against an ACC team since 1986, when it happened in a game at Clemson.  The freshman who picked off two Tiger passes in that game was Anthony Jenkins, who would later decide to concentrate on another sport at The Citadel.  That worked out rather well for everybody (well, maybe not so well for Miami or Cal State-Fullerton).

– Other than the punt return TD , the special teams were solid (although that is a big “other”).  Sam Keeler’s successful field goal attempts should increase his confidence, and that could be important as the season progresses.  The second Keeler field goal would never have happened, though, without a world-class hold by Cam Turner.  Keeler also deserves credit for trusting Turner to get the ball down in time; I’ve seen some kickers stop their approach in that situation.

– Okay, so committing four turnovers wasn’t a good thing.  At least the Bulldogs also forced four turnovers.  Creating turnovers was a major problem for The Citadel last season, so Boating’s two picks (the Bulldogs only had three all last year) plus the two fumble recoveries on special teams were a welcome development.  Admittedly, the punt cover fumbles were somewhat flukish, but flukes count too.

– Memo to The Citadel Sports Network:  during the halftime show, when someone is updating scores of various games from around the country, it would be helpful if the person doing the announcing actually knew the score of the game involving The Citadel.  On Saturday night the Bulldogs apparently managed to score a touchdown between the second and third quarters.  This magic touchdown was credited to The Citadel at least three times during the intermission.

It’s now time to focus on Princeton…well, maybe not.  Not yet, anyway.

The Citadel is off next week, and the extra week should give the Bulldogs badly needed time to heal some bumps and bruises.  I hope Garland is ready to play by then; having apparently suffered a concussion, however, that may prove not to be the case.

The extra two weeks will also give the band some time to arm itself properly, in case an invasion of Old Nassau is in the offing…

Football, week 1: The Citadel vs. North Carolina

There will be a lot of blue on display in this game.  If Kenan Stadium could sing a song on Saturday, it might sound like this:

I’m blue da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di da ba dee da ba di…

That’s right, an Eiffel 65 reference.  What other game preview gives you that?

The Citadel begins another football season this Saturday.  Doesn’t it seem like the anticipation increases every year?  Of course, this year part of the reason Bulldog fans want the season to hurry up and get here is so the team doesn’t lose any more running backs before the first game.

Some fast facts:

–Series:  UNC leads 3-0 (all three games played in Chapel Hill)
–Scores:  14-7 UNC (1915), 50-0 UNC (1939), 45-14 UNC (1986)
–The Citadel alltime against current ACC schools:  6-63-2
–The Citadel alltime against ACC schools (when those schools were actually members of the ACC):  0-24

The last time the Bulldogs beat a current ACC school was in 1931, when The Citadel edged Clemson, 6-0 (in a game played in Florence, of all places).  The Citadel also tied Florida State in 1960, 0-0.  The Bulldogs haven’t seriously threatened an ACC opponent on the gridiron since 1976, when Clemson slipped past a solid Bobby Ross squad, 10-7.

The 1939 UNC team that thrashed the Bulldogs 50-0 was pretty good, going 8-1-1 that season.  Alas, the loss was to Duke.  The coach of the Tar Heels at the time was Raymond “Bear” Wolf.  Yes, “Bear” Wolf.  Years before, Wolf had been a baseball player; he played in one game in the majors, for Cincinnati, getting one more at bat than Moonlight Graham did (speaking of UNC alums).  Wolf had a good run in Chapel Hill until 1941, when he went 3-7.

The new coach was Jim Tatum, who is in the College Football Hall of Fame, but mostly for his work at Maryland.  Tatum only coached at UNC (his alma mater) for one year before enlisting in the Navy; he would later have enormous success in College Park, winning a national title with the Terrapins in 1953, before returning to North Carolina in 1956.  Tatum coached three more seasons in Chapel Hill before dying suddenly of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in 1959.  He was only 46.

While Tatum was building a championship team at Maryland (he also coached Oklahoma for one season), UNC was having a very good run of its own, thanks in large part to the exploits of the great Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice.  Justice is surely one of the best college football players not to win the Heisman Trophy (he was the runner-up twice).  North Carolina played in three major bowl games during this period, the only three times the Heels have ever played in a major bowl.  UNC lost all three games.

After some good (and bad) seasons through the 1960s, UNC would have another outstanding streak of success in the early 1970s under Bill Dooley, including an 11-1 season in 1972, marred only by a loss to Ohio State.  Interestingly, North Carolina did not finish the year in the top 10 of either poll.  Dooley would move on to Virginia Tech (and later Wake Forest).

Dick Crum took over the program from Dooley, and had some excellent seasons of his own, including 1980, when the Tar Heels (featuring Lawrence Taylor) would again go 11-1, again go undefeated in ACC play — and again struggle against a big-name non-conference opponent, this time Oklahoma (losing 41-7).  That 1980 season marks the last time UNC won the ACC title.

The next year could arguably serve as a microcosm of North Carolina’s football history.  UNC, led by tailback Kelvin Bryant, scored 161 points in its first three games in 1981.  Bryant scored an amazing 15 touchdowns in those three matchups.  Then, against Georgia Tech, Bryant injured his knee.  He would miss the next four games.  UNC hung on for two games, but after improving its record to 6-0, the Tar Heels were soundly beaten at home by a mediocre South Carolina team, 31-13.

North Carolina rebounded to beat Maryland, and then played Clemson in a game that was essentially for the ACC title.  The Heels had won 11 straight ACC contests, and the Tigers were undefeated (and had beaten Herschel Walker and Georgia).  It was the first time two ACC schools had met in football when both were ranked in the AP top 10, and it would be a memorable encounter.  Clemson prevailed, 10-8, in a game where the intensity was palpable, even to TV viewers.

North Carolina would not lose again that season, buoyed to an extent by the return of Bryant for the final two regular-season games and the Gator Bowl (where the Tar Heels would defeat Arkansas).  There was, however, one final twist of the knife.  From the “Scorecard” section of Sports Illustrated (January 11, 1982):

They say you can prove anything with statistics, and in the case of North Carolina running back Kelvin Bryant, official NCAA figures would appear to show that he didn’t exist in 1981. NCAA rules specify that to qualify as a season statistical leader a football player must appear in at least 75% of his team’s regular-season games; for the Tar Heels, who played an 11-game schedule, that meant a minimum of eight games. Because of knee surgery, Bryant played in only seven games, but he made the most of his limited participation, to put it mildly, scoring 108 points. The NCAA determines scoring leaders on a per-game basis, and it awarded the scoring title to USC’s Marcus Allen, who averaged 12.5 points a game. Because he played too few games, Bryant, with a 15.4 average, didn’t qualify to be the scoring champion, which may be fair enough. But Bryant also was excluded from the list of 25 top scorers even though—surely there’s an injustice here—he ranked fifth in total points behind Allen (138 points), Georgia’s Herschel Walker (120), SMU’s Eric Dickerson (114) and McNeese State’s Buford Johnson (l10). Absurdly, Iowa State’s Dwayne Crutchfield, who scored just 104 points, is listed in fifth place, while Bryant and his 108 points are nowhere to be seen.

This little blurb came in the same edition of the magazine  that featured Clemson wide receiver Perry Tuttle on the cover, as the Tigers had just won the national championship by defeating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.  Talk about a double whammy of what might have beens…

Crum never had a team that good again, and by the late 1980s the program was beginning to fade.  Mack Brown then arrived and basically decided to start over.  After consecutive 1-10 seasons, that may have looked like a mistake, but Brown gradually built things back up, and in his last two seasons in Chapel Hill the team went 10-2 and 11-1 .  He couldn’t quite get that one big win to push the program to the next level, though, as the Heels could not beat Florida State.  After that 11-1 season (in 1997), Brown left for a program that he felt he could push over the top — Texas.

As the above paragraphs illustrate, UNC has had an occasionally-close-but-no-cigar kind of history in football — sometimes good, sometimes very good, but never quite getting over the hump (at least nationally) for various reasons, and thus always remaining in the large shadow cast by the school’s basketball program.  As the years have gone by, the degree of difficulty in trying to escape that shadow seems to have increased.

After ten seasons of around .500 ball under two coaches, the folks at UNC decided to shake things up and bring in Butch Davis, who is known as somebody who can really recruit (proof:  the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, which had 16 future NFL first-round draft picks on its roster).  Whether Davis can put it all together at North Carolina is the big question.  There are high hopes in Chapel Hill this season, however, as he returns 38 lettermen (including 15 starters) from a team that won eight games last season and is ranked #20 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll.

One of those returning starters is quarterback T.J. Yates, who presumably will have fully recovered from an injury suffered this past spring while playing Ultimate Frisbee.  I’m guessing that summer activities for the Tar Heels were restricted to checkers and backgammon in an attempt to keep everyone healthy.

Speaking of UNC quarterbacks, one of the curious things about the Heels’ football history is the lack of success of any North Carolina quarterback in the NFL (at least as a QB).  There have been 182 UNC football players who went on to the NFL (as of the conclusion of the 2008-09 season), but only two of them have been quarterbacks — and one of them, Jim Camp, never threw a pass in the league.  The other, Scott Stankavich, played in only four career games (no starts); two of those games came as a “replacement player” during the 1987 players’ strike.

Ronald Curry has had a decent career in the NFL, but as a wide receiver.  Curry has attempted four passes in the league, completing none of them.  There have actually been fifteen former Tar Heels who have attempted at least one NFL pass.  Only six of them, however, have actually completed one.  Stankavage is one of those six, but the Heel with the most yards passing in the NFL is halfback Ed Sutton, who threw for 146 yards in his career, with one TD.  Don McCauley is the only other UNC player to throw a TD pass in the NFL.

I totalled all the NFL passing statistics for former UNC players.  I also totalled the passing statistics for The Citadel’s Stump Mitchell (who threw nine passes during his career, including a TD toss to Roy Green) and Paul Maguire (who threw one pass during his career, completing it for 19 yards).  Check out the cumulative stats comparison:

UNC:  19-70, 315 yards, 2 TDs, 6 INTs, QB rating of 19.6
The Citadel:  5-10, 102 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, QB rating of 119.6

A 100-point difference in QB rating?!  Advantage, Bulldogs.  Of course, that won’t mean anything on Saturday.

Last season, the Bulldogs were 4-8.  This followed a 7-4 campaign in 2007 that had fans thinking a return to the FCS playoffs was not far away.  Instead, the Bulldogs lost six straight games during the course of the 2008 season, narrowly avoided a seventh straight defeat to a poor UT-Chattanooga squad, and then got pummeled by Tim Tebow and eventual BCS champion Florida in the season finale.

Some of those games were close (The Citadel lost three Southern Conference games by a total of 12 points), but on the whole the 4-8 record was a fair reflection of the Bulldogs’ play.  Comparing some league-only statistics from the 2007 and 2008 seasons is illuminating.  Ignoring the raw totals, which are a touch misleading (scoring was down in the SoCon last season as compared to 2007), and looking at league rankings:

-Scoring defense:  4th (2007), 8th (2008)
-Pass efficiency defense:  3rd (2007), 9th (2008)
-Red Zone defense:  2nd (2007), 9th (2008)
-Turnover margin:  2nd (2007), 5th (2008)
-3rd down conversion offense:  2nd (2007), 5th (2008)
-3rd down conversion defense:  2nd (2007, 5th (2008)

That’s basically the story of the 2008 season right there.  The defense had trouble getting off the field (SoCon opponents completed over 64% of their passes against The Citadel, and the Bulldogs only intercepted two passes all season in league play).  Inside the 20, The Citadel’s defense had no answers (allowing 23 touchdowns in 31 red zone situations).

Offensively, the running game struggled, as rushing yardage per game dropped by one-third.  Perhaps more ominously, the number of third downs converted via the rush fell substantially.  This also affected the offense’s red zone success rate, as the team scored only 18 touchdowns in 34 opportunities inside the 20 (the worst ratio in the league), and led to over-reliance on an erratic (I’m being kind here) placekicking game.  The Bulldogs only made 7 of 12 field goals attempted in red zone possessions.  No other conference team missed more than one such attempt all season.

After a season like that, it’s not surprising changes were made.  The Bulldogs are going to return to a 4-3 defense after last year’s attempt at a 3-4 resulted in the D getting pushed all over the gridiron.  That rather obvious lack of physicality was also addressed by an aggressive offseason conditioning program.  There are a couple of new defensive coaches, too.

There has been a good pre-season buzz about the defensive line, which is nice, but there also needs to be more playmaking from the linebackers and secondary.  In other words:  get stops and force turnovers.  The key is to corral more interceptions (fumble recoveries tend to be somewhat random).  Scoring touchdowns on defense would be a plus, too, but you have to get the turnovers first before you can think six.  The Bulldogs have recorded 13 sacks in conference play each of the last two seasons; a few more this year certainly couldn’t hurt.

The offensive line should be strong, although illness has been a problem in fall practice, what with one lineman suffering from an acid-reflux problem and another battling mononucleosis.  That’s still much better than the Bulldogs’ running back situation.  The starter for UNC may be walk-on freshman Bucky Kennedy, walk-on freshman Remi Biakabutuka, or one of the backup bagpipers.  Biakabutuka would definitely be the choice if the opening-game opponent were Ohio State rather than North Carolina, as just the name “Biakabutuka” on his jersey would be enough to unnerve the Buckeyes, thanks to his older brother Tim.

Another potential threat as a runner is backup quarterback Miguel Starks, who last year impressed many observers just by standing on the sideline during games.  However, he’s never played a down of college football.  It will be interesting to see what he can do once he gets on the field.

I’m of the opinion that the incumbent starting quarterback, Bart Blanchard, didn’t have that bad a season last year, as I don’t think he got much help from the rest of the backfield (and the offensive line seemed to lack consistency).  He is a bit limited as a runner, which is not ideal in Kevin Higgins’ offense, but that was true the year before as well and the Bulldogs managed just fine when he stepped in for Duran Lawson.  Higgins wants him to have a better completion percentage, but part of the problem Blanchard had last season trying to avoid incompletions was a limited number of passing targets — basically, his options were the tight ends and Andre Roberts.

Of course, Roberts is a nice target to have.  It would really help Roberts (and Blanchard) if a second receiver emerged this season (Kevin Hardy?), which never happened last year.  If another Bulldog wideout does develop into a threat, Roberts could wind up with fewer catches but more yards per reception.  Roberts in space is a big play waiting to happen, as anyone who has watched him return punts can attest.  I’m glad he’s not going to be returning kickoffs this year, though.  I worry about him wearing down over the course of the season.

The placekicking needs to be much improved.  Last year was just not acceptable.  The Bulldogs also must replace Mark Kasper, who was a solid punter for four seasons (second in the league in net punting last year).  The Citadel needs to improve its kickoff coverage (next-to-last in the conference in 2008).  Basically, the special teams must get better across the board (with the exception of the punt return team, which thanks to Roberts was the nation’s best unit).

As for Saturday’s game, a lot depends on whether Blanchard and Roberts have fully recovered from sprained ankles each suffered during fall practice.  If they are both good to go, I would expect the Bulldogs to be reasonably competitive against North Carolina.

While the Heels return 15 starters, they must replace some excellent wide receivers (including Hakeem Nicks) and two starters on their offensive line.  UNC’s o-line has taken a bit of a hit in the pre-season with some injuries and attrition (nothing like The Citadel’s running back situation, though).  The starting group should still be solid, however.

T.J. Yates should be okay after his frisbee ordeal.  This will be his third year starting games at QB for UNC.  Yates is good at taking care of the ball (only four interceptions last season).  UNC has a nice corps of running backs, led by Shaun Draughn, who rushed for 866 yards in 2008.  The Tar Heels will definitely need to find some new wideouts, as no returning receiver caught more than 11 passes last year.

UNC rotates a number of defensive linemen, and almost all of them are very good athletes (and most of them are huge).  Marvin Austin has first-round pick potential, Cam Thomas has all the makings of a future NFL nosetackle, and Ladson native Robert Quinn won the ACC’s Piccolo Award after recovering from a brain tumor to have an outstanding freshman campaign.

Despite this embarrassment of riches, the Tar Heels didn’t do a particularly good job creating sacks last season (only 22 all season; the d-line only had 5.5 of those).  Still, this group will be a formidable challenge for The Citadel’s offensive line.

North Carolina has a really good trio of starting linebackers, led by Bruce Carter, who doubles as a great kick-blocker (five last year).  The defensive backfield should be excellent, with several ball hawks ready to repeat last year’s success in intercepting passes (the Heels had 20 picks).

UNC did struggle defensively on third down conversions, ranking last in the ACC in that category.

North Carolina’s special teams were okay last year, although its net punting was mediocre.  The Heels will be breaking in a new punter this season, which might be good news for Andre Roberts (and Mel Capers), although first The Citadel’s defense has to actually force a punt.

Last season UNC opened with McNeese State, and struggled before finally winning the game 35-27.  It should be pointed out that the Cowboys were a solid FCS club (finishing 7-4, and featuring a quality offense), and that the game was affected by a lightning delay.  If anything, that relatively close call may make the North Carolina players more wary of FCS opposition.

The goals for this game, from The Citadel’s point of view, are for the team to be as competitive as possible, and to avoid major injuries.  It isn’t realistic to expect a victory, particularly against a pre-season Top 20 team.  The Bulldogs just want to make UNC work for a win.

To do that, avoiding turnovers on offense is a must.  I suspect that The Citadel is not going to have much of a rushing attack in this game, which is going to be a problem.  It’s also going to be a tough game to break in a new punter.  I think the Bulldog defense has a chance to establish itself to a certain extent.  However, the UNC offense is not turnover-prone and is more than capable of grinding out drives (although this may not be a bad thing for The Citadel; the fewer big plays, the better).

Obviously, the players won’t be thinking the way I’m thinking.  They’re traveling to Chapel Hill looking for a victory, which is a good thing.  That’s how they should approach this game.  Besides, you never know what might happen.  After all, my fantasy football team is called The Jack Crowes.

I’m just ready for kickoff.

ESPN’s college football announcers for 2009

On Thursday, ESPN released its assignments for its college football studio and game coverage.  There was a fair amount of movement among its announcing teams this season.  Some comments:

  • The Brad Nessler-Todd Blackledge tandem should be excellent.  Blackledge no longer has to worry about trying to decipher various off-the-wall comments by Mike Patrick.  Nessler doesn’t have to prop up Bob Griese (who to me has faded badly as an analyst in recent years) or make room for Paul Maguire’s observations.  Erin Andrews will roam the sidelines for this team; let’s hope she doesn’t get hit by a ball.
  • Speaking of Maguire, according to a column in USA Today he was supposed to have a “reduced role” this season, with “the occasional game” and some studio and radio shows.  However, the man who still holds the record for the longest punt in The Citadel’s football history is not listed anywhere on the release (and the release is fairly extensive, listing some “additional” commentators like JC Pearson, Jon Berger, and Shaun King).
  • Griese is going to be part of a three-man booth working the noon ESPN game.  Dave Pasch gets to referee Griese and Chris Spielman.  That strikes me as possibly being a mismatched combo.  Griese and Spielman are both Big 10 guys, though.  I think Pasch is one of the better play-by-play guys ESPN has on its roster, but he’s probably precluded from drawing primetime assignments due to being the radio voice of the Arizona Cardinals.
  • One of my favorite announcers, Sean McDonough, will work ABC games with Matt Millen.  Millen was a solid analyst on NFL telecasts before his extremely ill-advised stint as GM of the Lions.  I think moving back to broadcasting on the college side is probably a good move for him.  Oh, and this team also draws a sideline reporter, Holly Rowe.  It’s a shame she isn’t working with Ron Franklin.
  • Mike Patrick moves from ESPN Saturday night to one of the regional ABC slots, teamed with Craig James (who will also continue as an analyst on the Thursday night package) and sideline reporter Heather Cox.  Britney Spears will not be impressed.
  • Carter Blackburn, formerly of CBS College Sports TV, will be calling games on ESPNU.  It appears he’ll primarily be working west coast games.  His announcing sidekick is listed as “TBD”.
  • Pam Ward is back for the noon game on ESPN2, with Ray Bentley back for at least the third year in a row as her analyst.  I’m just glad I’m not a fan of, say, a mediocre Big 10 school…
  • Todd Harris got a regular play-by-play gig, working Saturday afternoon ESPNU telecasts with Charles Arbuckle (really, it should have been Bentley).  I sincerely hope those will be “interactive” broadcasts.

Then there is ESPN’s SEC announcing roster.  I wanted to delve into this a little deeper, because I’m curious to see how ESPN approaches its contractual relationship with the conference.

Aside from the SEC primetime games that will air on ESPN (which will mostly be called by Nessler and Blackledge), there will be a regular ESPN game on Saturday night, an occasional afternoon game on ESPNU, and the syndicated regional package put together by ESPN Regional Television.  The full list of affiliates for the regional package won’t be announced until the SEC Media Days in a couple of weeks, but it’s anticipated the “footprint” for the broadcast will be significantly larger than what it was under Raycom/JP/Lincoln Financial.

The ESPNU night game will be called by Eric Collins and Brock Huard.  Neither of those guys has an SEC background, or even a background in the southeast, which is at least semi-interesting.  Huard is a former Washington quarterback who worked games last season with Bob Wischusen.  Collins has called college football for ESPN before (working with Shaun King on a semi-regular basis, if I remember correctly), and currently works the TV side of L.A. Dodgers broadcasts for the 38 road games for which Vin Scully doesn’t travel.

The SEC regional broadcast was traditionally the Dave-Dave-Dave show, or Dave Times Three.  However, all traditions must end sometime, and thus only one of the Daves was brought into the new ERT package.  That would be play-by-play man Dave Neal, the de facto TV face of the SEC.  Neal will be working with Andre Ware, not one of my favorite analysts but probably still better than his Dave predecessors (Rowe and Archer).  The sideline reporter will be Cara Capuano, who SEC fans will undoubtably identify with completely, since she’s from California and has a degree in cell biology and biochemistry from UC-San Diego.  Capuano will double as the host of the new weekly SEC show on ESPNU.

The regional broadcast will also have a studio show hosted by Rob Stone and Matt Stinchcomb, which is convenient, since the ESPNU studio for Saturday afternoons will also be Stone and Stinchcomb.  UGA fans will be in Dawg Heaven on the U, since Stinchcomb will be working afternoons in the studio, and appearing in the studio in primetime will be another former UGA man, David Pollack.

I’m just ready for the games to start…