Game review, 2014: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

School release

Box score

Brief comments:

– While I wasn’t surprised the Bulldogs lost, I was disappointed in how they played. They weren’t disciplined or sharp enough on Saturday night.

Special teams play reared its ugly head again, allowing a punt return TD (and was very lucky on the field goal, as it was tipped). Defensively, The Citadel allowed too many long third down conversions, including three of nine yards or more.

On offense, the Bulldogs were just 4 of 14 on third downs, not good enough for a triple option team, and evidence of a lack of success on first and second downs. Of the fourteen 3rd-down plays, eight of them were 3rd-and-7 or longer.

There were too many penalties, including multiple drive-killers (though I thought the Bulldogs were hosed at least twice by the officials on that front). The Citadel also had two lost fumbles, both costly.

– Speaking of turnovers, through three games the Bulldog D has yet to force one. No interceptions, no recovered fumbles (and only one forced fumble).

In addition, The Citadel only has three quarterback sacks so far this season. The Bulldogs have been credited with five pass breakups in 91 opponent pass attempts (5.5%). The lack of sacks and pass breakups goes a long way to explaining why Bulldog opponents are completing 71.4% of their passes.

By contrast, The Citadel has only completed 24.2% of its passes (8-33). The Bulldogs aren’t going to complete an exceptionally high percentage of passes in the triple option, but they must be better than 24%. Much better.

– I thought Mike Houston made a mistake early in the game. On the opening drive, with 4th-and-1 on the CSU 46, he decided to punt.

That’s not the percentage play, especially for the triple option offense. He let the visiting crowd down early with that call.

I’ll delve into a few more numbers when I preview the Gardner-Webb game later in the week.

Now I’m going to talk about (well, write about) the game location and future scheduling, since this has been a topic of discussion. I suspect not everyone is going to be happy with what I’m going to say.

I will preface what follows by stating the obvious: I’m not an insider. There may be more to this subject than I know. I would be shocked if that weren’t the case.

So, massive caveats and all that…

First, here is my preview of the CSU game from last week, which has some background: Link

Apparently as part of the two-year contract, The Citadel will not pay Charleston Southern any money for playing at Johnson Hagood Stadium next year. That is not a good enough reason to have made the deal, from my vantage point.

Charleston Southern presumably wants to play The Citadel on an annual basis, and home-and-home. The announced crowd for the game on Saturday was 7,954.

I think the actual attendance was probably closer to 5,500, which is nothing to apologize about, but not really that close to the 12,000-13,000 for the previous games held at Johnson Hagood Stadium. For the attendance to have been close to 8,000 fans, that would have meant at least 3,300 people would have been lined up (or in their cars/trucks) around the fence enclosing the track.

Also, that’s assuming there were 4,700 seats available at Buccaneer Field in the first place. I suspect it was more like 4,262, based on previous information released by the school.

There weren’t 3,300 people milling about around that fence.

Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell emerged from the locker room Saturday night wearing a smile and a T-shirt with a message.

“Charleston, it’s Southern’s City,” read the shirt…

…”In this city and for what we are trying to make with this rivalry, it’s big on that end,” said Chadwell.

This message was also sent in a Thursday column by The Post and Courier‘s Gene Sapakoff that might as well have been ghost-written by the CSU administration. He concluded his column by implicitly wishing for a Buccaneer victory on Saturday night, but I want to highlight this statement instead:

This is a good game for the Lowcountry and there is no reason it shouldn’t continue on an annual basis well beyond a scheduled meeting next year at The Citadel. It makes financial sense for a pair of cash-strapped programs 16 miles apart.

I think it’s debatable whether or not the matchup is a “good game for the Lowcountry”. That suggests the Lowcountry awaits the matchup with tremendous anticipation. There is nothing the Lowcountry really awaits with tremendous anticipation, with the possible exception of local school board meetings.

(It also seems at odds with Sapakoff’s insistence in recent years that what the Lowcountry is really desperate for is another Clemson-South Carolina baseball game at Riley Park, but that’s another story.)

However, let’s assume it is a good game for the Lowcountry. If that were the case, and if it “makes financial sense for a pair of cash-strapped programs”, then why would anyone want to ever play it at the much smaller stadium?

I estimate between 2,000-2,500 fans of The Citadel were at the game on Saturday. It was an exceptionally good turnout considering the circumstances (including threatening weather). If the game had been held at Johnson Hagood Stadium, there probably would have been about 9,000-10,000 Bulldog supporters.

I gather folks at CSU would prefer a regular, or at least semi-regular, home-and-home series (and if I’m wrong about that, I apologize in advance for making an incorrect assumption).

They would want it for recruiting, and also to erase the stigma of being “the red-headed stepchild” on a local level (Jamey Chadwell made that comment during the Big South teleconference).

I understand that. I also understand that if The Citadel tells CSU it only will play future games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, CSU may not be interested, especially if a much larger guarantee is not part of the equation. If it’s not in the best interests of Charleston Southern to play The Citadel only at JHS, then Charleston Southern shouldn’t play The Citadel there.

My position is simple. I care about what is best for The Citadel.

There are at least two major problems with playing at CSU, in my opinion:

1) Charleston Southern’s facility is simply not of Division I caliber

It does not benefit The Citadel’s football program to play a non-conference road game at Buccaneer Field. It is not beneficial to The Citadel in recruiting. It is not beneficial to The Citadel’s fan base.

The Citadel may have made a short-term financial gain by playing at CSU on Saturday, but school administrators should be thinking about the long-term impact on the football program.

I also want to repeat something I said on Twitter, which is that quite honestly Jamey Chadwell and his players deserve better than what they have right now in North Charleston.

2) The Citadel’s future scheduling is too restrictive to have an annual home-and-home series with Charleston Southern

This is something that doesn’t always get mentioned, so I probably need to explain it in some detail.

Next year, FCS schools will revert back to an 11-game regular season schedule. That will be the case until 2019 (when FCS teams can schedule 12 games, as was the option in 2013 and 2014). After 2019, there won’t be another 12-game schedule opportunity for FCS programs until 2024.

In 2015, The Citadel will play seven SoCon games and four non-conference games: home against Charleston Southern (the second game of the current contract), home against Davidson, and road games versus Georgia Southern and South Carolina.

Beginning in 2016, the number of SoCon games on the slate will increase from seven to eight, as East Tennessee State begins league play. That leaves three non-conference games per season. One of those three will almost certainly always be a “money game” against FBS opposition (unless those games come to an end, which I tend to doubt, but that’s another issue).

In 2016, the Bulldogs are tentatively scheduled to play at North Carolina. In 2017, The Citadel will play at South Carolina.

This leaves two games on The Citadel’s schedule each year. One of them has to be a “designated home game” — in other words, a game in which the opposing school does not get a return game at its place. That’s to ensure there are at least five home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium every season.

The other game is what I will call a “flex game”. It could be a non-conference home-and-home with another FCS school, or a matchup with another FBS program. While the latter possibility may not be as likely, there are scenarios in which The Citadel would gladly take a second FBS game (especially if it were against Army or Navy).

Charleston Southern could play The Citadel every year in the “designated home game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. However, it would not be in the best interests of The Citadel to hamstring its future scheduling by eliminating the “flex game” to play an annual home-and-home series versus CSU.

The Citadel needs the flexibility of that game to pursue opportunities that could be of significant benefit to the school and its football program, whether a “bonus” money game, a matchup with a service academy, or perhaps a home-and-home with a team outside the region.

While it is more expensive to play a home-and-home against an FCS school in another part of the country, there are important ancillary benefits to occasionally doing so. They include exposing the school to a wider audience, and reconnecting with certain parts of The Citadel’s far-flung alumni base.

I remember attending The Citadel’s game at Princeton. It was an excellent public/alumni relations event for the military college (even with the Princeton band’s, uh, involvement). I also remember the large contingent of Bulldog supporters who showed up for that contest, probably more than attended the game at Buccaneer Field on Saturday night.

Because of those considerations, among other things, I don’t see a home-and-home with CSU going forward as practical or beneficial for The Citadel.

Again, if Charleston Southern won’t play The Citadel without a home-and-home, I get that. I wouldn’t blame CSU at all for taking that stance.

I realize scheduling can be problematic. That is why ADs get paid good money — to solve those problems, and to do so in a way that is good for students, coaches, fans, and long-term program/school interests.

I didn’t take quite as many photos on Saturday as I usually do. I had trouble getting a good angle for the “action” shots, and of course I’m not a very good photographer as it is. Nevertheless, here are some pictures, mostly of dubious quality.

A few quick thoughts about college football titles, including The Citadel’s national championship in 1871

Recently, Auburn made some waves in the world of college football by announcing that it was considering the recognition of seven more national championships for its football program:

“If other schools are using these same polls to declare a national championship, we should at least consider it,” Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. “I don’t think there’s a better time for the Auburn family to consider it than right here at the end of the BCS era.

“As we transition into another playoff format for the national champion, I just think we need to look hard at it.”

The 1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1983, 1993 and 2004 teams are all under consideration. Each finished undefeated or won the conference championship, or both. All were recognized as national champions by at least one national selector, which are used by other schools to recognize National Championships.

Now, Auburn wouldn’t be the first school to claim additional titles from the distant past. Far from it.

The leader in retroactive championships is Princeton, which has claimed 28 football titles, including the first in 1869. Many of those retro-crowns were awarded to Princeton by Parke Davis, a prominent college football researcher in the early part of the 20th century.

As it happens, Davis was a former player at Princeton. He was a member of the 1889 squad that he would later anoint as national champions (Davis did that in 1932).

Davis was also at one time the head football coach at Lafayette. In 1896, he led the Leopards to an undefeated season, with one tie. That tie came against Princeton. Both teams finished without a loss, and Davis awarded each a share of the 1896 crown, thirty-six years after the fact.

This kerfuffle about championships reminded me again how The Citadel has always been low-key about its own national football championship, which came in 1871. What is unusual about The Citadel’s national crown is that it is essentially undisputed.

While up to five schools have claimed championships for certain seasons, no other school to my knowledge has attempted to claim the 1871 title.

This is probably due to the painstaking research and mathematical calculations that were made by the determining selector for that season (for the uninitiated, “selector” refers to the pollsters/analysts determining the champion). The Citadel was awarded the 1871 national championship by the TSA Matrix Ratings System.

It is hard to argue that the military college doesn’t deserve at least a share of the title. No points were scored against The Citadel on the gridiron during the entire 1871 season, a rare accomplishment in college football. The fact no other school has even tried to shoehorn its way into the 1871 championship discussion speaks volumes about the validity of The Citadel’s claim.

The TSA Matrix Ratings System, showing an admirable attention to detail, actually determined a top 5 for the 1871 campaign. The Citadel was followed in the algorithm by 2nd-ranked Princeton; 3rd-ranked Rutgers; 4th-ranked Columbia; and 5th-ranked Stevens Tech.

(For those not familiar with Stevens Tech, it is a school located in Hoboken, New Jersey that currently competes at the NCAA Division III level in athletics, though it no longer fields a varsity football squad. It is thus no longer near the forefront of national championship discussion, as it was throughout most of the 1870s. The school’s teams are known as the Ducks, and its mascot is Attila the Duck.)

The Citadel is the only southern school to have established a claim for a national football crown in the 19th century. The next earliest title claim for a school south of the Mason-Dixon line is that of LSU, for the 1908 championship. The Citadel also has the earliest claim for a national title by a military college. Army did not enter the championship picture until 1914, while Navy’s sole claim to a crown came in 1926.

It is a little disappointing that The Citadel’s on-campus bookstore doesn’t sell national championship memorabilia for the 1871 season. I would love to have a ’71 championship mug, for example.

I think a handsome profit could be made for going “retro” with some offerings, not just for the 1871 title, but for things like The Citadel’s trip to the College World Series in 1990. You can’t tell me people wouldn’t buy t-shirts commemorating the Bulldogs’ run to Omaha.

It’s not like the folks running the bookstore haven’t been willing to experiment. After all, they sold this holiday sweatshirt last year: Link

Here are a couple of mock-ups of potential t-shirts or sweatshirts that could be sold on campus or online. These are simplistic, but they certainly deliver the message: Link and Link

Circling back to titles that are actually controversial in nature:

With college football moving to a playoff at the FBS level, there will be a dramatic reduction in disputes surrounding the “true” major-college national champion. For those who believe in decisiveness and closure, this is a good thing. However, there is surely something lost in the transition.

The unknown provides a certain romance. There is something charming about the notion that almost any school with an argument, no matter how dubious or whimsical, can make a claim to being the best in a given year.

Besides, a few extra banners never hurt anybody…

Hoops season has arrived, and just in time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ready for some hoops…

A quick look at The Citadel’s future football schedules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in the first place?

I didn’t touch on this in my preview of the game between The Citadel and Arizona, but I figured I could make a quick post out of the question:  why exactly is The Citadel playing Arizona in football in the first place?  I’m sure fans of both schools are a little curious about that.

Well, for money, of course.  The Citadel has to play at least one football “guarantee” game every season to balance (or attempt to balance) its budget for athletics.  On the other hand, surely The Citadel could find an FBS opponent a little closer to home, an ACC or SEC team, or even a Big East squad.  After all, the Bulldogs have played teams from all those leagues in the last few seasons, along with a Big XII team (Texas A&M), a Big 10 outfit (Wisconsin)…oh, wait a second.  I see a pattern — a pattern created by none other than Les Robinson.

That’s right, The Citadel’s national tour of BCS conferences is a result of one of former AD Les Robinson’s grand ideas.  You can read about it here:  Link

The game against the Pac-10’s Arizona is the last of the “BCS series” for The Citadel, which in the past five years has traveled to play against the aforementioned Texas A&M and Wisconsin, along with Pittsburgh of the Big East, Florida of the SEC, and North Carolina and Clemson of the ACC.

Just prior to that five-year run the Bulldogs traveled to Oxford to play Mississippi and Tallahassee to tangle with Florida State.  The coach for all these games has been Kevin Higgins, so keep that in mind when evaluating his 25-32 record at The Citadel. I think there is a good chance Higgins is the only head coach in the country to have played teams from all six BCS conferences in the last five seasons.

After this game the Bulldogs will have completed the Robinson Quest, having played teams from all six BCS leagues.  Robinson even set up a “bonus” two-game series with Princeton of the Ivy League.  I am not sure current AD Larry Leckonby is crazy about scheduling the likes of Arizona or (to a lesser extent) Wisconsin, as the travel for those games eats into the guarantee.  It was also a significant issue for the game at Princeton.

I can certainly understand that, and in the future I expect most, if not all, of The Citadel’s football guarantee games to come against SEC/ACC schools.  However, I don’t think it hurts the school to travel out of its home region on occasion.  I agree with the comment Robinson made in the linked article about such games providing needed national exposure.  Another thing they provide is an opportunity for alums living outside the southeast to attend a game.

The Citadel brought a very good crowd to the Princeton game last year.  I can attest to the number of PA/NJ/NY alums in attendance, most of whom showed up with their families, and some with friends too.  We need to play games like that once in a while, if only for those fans.

The game against Arizona will give some of our alums on the west coast a chance to see their team in action.  Admittedly, a game against UCLA or Stanford might have been a better bet in terms of Bulldog supporters showing up — I’m not sure how many alums live in Arizona — but still, it’s in the general area.

Anyway, I hope the following gives a little insight into how this game came to be.  I don’t think we’ll be seeing any other matchups on the gridiron between The Citadel and Pac-10 teams in the near future, but you never know.

It was just one game…or was it?

Elon 43, The Citadel 7.  I blame the navy pants…

I waited a few days to post my thoughts on this game because I honestly was not sure what to make of it.  That’s because it wasn’t just a loss, it was a debacle.  The score may have been 43 to 7, but in reality it felt like 63 to -7.

The Citadel started the game deep in its own territory after a special teams miscue, then committed its first offensive penalty before its first offensive snap.  After a three-and-out (losing four yards in three plays), the Bulldogs gave up a 28-yard punt return.  Then the defense committed a penalty on its first play.

Elon picked up a first down on its first official play from scrimmage.  One play, one first down.  It took The Citadel 37 minutes to pick up its initial first down.

Elon scored on every one of its first-half possessions, and also scored to open the second half.  The Citadel scored its lone TD in the fourth quarter, which was immediately followed by a 15-play, 81-yard drive by the Phoenix that lasted for over seven minutes and resulted in the game’s final touchdown.

Some not-so-fun stats for the game included first downs (Elon 29, The Citadel 5), net rushing yardage (Elon 267, The Citadel 18), and net passing yardage (Elon 276, The Citadel 102).  The Citadel was 0-12 converting third downs, which led to the Bulldogs losing the time of possession battle by almost 17 minutes.

With the loss The Citadel is now 2-3 on the season, 0-2 in the Southern Conference.  Was what happened at Elon a fluke, mostly a fluke, or is it that the Bulldogs simply are not a good team and aren’t going to become one?

There are cumulative season statistics that do not give one confidence in the team’s chances of beginning a long winning streak.  For example:

  • Opponents are rushing for more than 200 yards per game against The Citadel, on average.  In contrast, the Bulldogs are averaging slighly over 117 yards per game. 
  • The Bulldogs’ average yards-per-play is almost a full yard less than that of its opponents.
  • Bulldog opponents are converting over half of their third down conversion attempts (52%), while The Citadel is converting less than one-third of its third downs (32%).
  • The Citadel’s defense, in five games, has four sacks.  Opponents have thrown 171 passes.  The Citadel’s offense has thrown 22 fewer passes but has been sacked eight more times.
  • The Citadel’s defense has turned opponents over ten times (six interceptions, four fumble recoveries), but arguably only two of those turnovers came when the outcome of the game was still in question.
  • The Citadel has only 17 tackles for loss in five games.  Opponents have 31.

Having noted all that, I will say that I don’t believe the Bulldogs are quite as inept as they showed against Elon.  That game reminded me a little bit of The Citadel’s basketball team at the SoCon tourney.  It seems like almost every year the Bulldogs play their first game in the league tournament, get off to a tough start, and it just snowballs, so that 10 minutes into the game the score is 31-6. 

Of course, many of those poor hoops performances were by teams that weren’t very good at all.  The football team this season was supposed to be better than that.  The Bulldogs do have two wins, but one of them came against a team that is still winless (Presbyterian), and the other against a team who in its next home game lost 38-0 to Columbia (Princeton, which this season is thankful for the existence of the Patriot League). 

There was some talk after the game by the players and Kevin Higgins that the Bulldogs had lacked an “edge” to their game when they took the field at Elon.  Really?  If true, there is no excuse for that.  There are eleven games in the season, not 162 (and there is no excuse for being listless when you play 162, either).  If you’re not ready to play, take off your helmet and give it to somebody who is.

The Citadel still has a chance to salvage its season, though.  There are still six games left to play.  A playoff bid is unlikely, unless the Bulldogs win all six games, but a winning league and overall season is still possible.  It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen unless The Citadel improves in several areas.

On offense, The Citadel must do a better job of running the ball, if only to improve its third down conversion rates.  The Bulldogs need long drives, not just to score, but to keep the defense off the field. 

Also, teams are going to continue to smother Andre Roberts until The Citadel punishes them.  Other players are going to have to make big plays, and not just once or twice.  The Bulldogs need a consistent playmaker to complement Roberts.  Of course, everyone knew that before the season started.  Five games in, and we’re still waiting for that second threat.

On defense, the front seven has to put pressure on the quarterback and create turnovers.  It must also do a much better job against the run.  I get the distinct sense that, especially on the line, The Citadel has been less than the sum of its parts. 

There were high hopes for the d-line before the campaign began, but it has been far from dominant.  Because of that, the Bulldogs have been victimized by long drives where they couldn’t get off the field.  Again, the third-down conversion rate on defense has been terrible.

On the bright side, the red zone defense has actually been pretty good.  The problem has been that opponents have been in that zone far too often.

One game doesn’t make a season.  The promise of the Appalachian State performance (despite the loss) can’t be completely washed away by the horrific play at Elon.  Maybe PC and Princeton aren’t very good, but those wins still count.  The Bulldogs can start to erase the Elon memories with a win at Western Carolina on Saturday.

However, there are a lot of questions about the team as it enters the second half of the season.  Those questions have to be answered.  I worry that the time to answer some of them has already passed.

When an easy win causes unease

The Citadel 46, Presbyterian 21.  Concerns?  Yes. 

Presbyterian rushed for 204 yards against The Citadel, averaging 4.7 yards per rush.  In its first three games this season, PC had rushed for a total of 203 yards. 

Blue Hose running back Trandon Dendy came into the game averaging 3.0 yards per rush, with a season long of 16.  Against the Bulldogs, Dendy rushed for 147 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, with a 40-yard TD run included.  

Presbyterian’s previous seven games against Southern Conference opponents (all played over the last two years) included five games in which PC had 61 yards rushing or less, and none of more than 140 yards.  The 4.7 yards per rush garnered by the Blue Hose on Saturday is the best PC has done against any SoCon opponent over that period.

The Citadel’s defense occasionally got pushed around by an offensive line that included a 258-lb. left tackle and a 240-lb. center.  This is not good.  

Against Princeton I thought the defense did an excellent job against the run, particularly considering the Tigers have a fine running back in Jordan Culbreath.  Against PC there were problems, unless there was some major sandbagging taking place.  I don’t see that, though, not when it’s rush defense that’s the issue.

At one point late in the second quarter Presbyterian held a 14-13 lead and was moving the ball, combining its rushing attack with a fairly sharp mid-range passing game.  Then, the Blue Hose got a little greedy, and tried a long pass that was intercepted by Bulldog defensive back Cortez Allen.  On the ensuing drive The Citadel scored a touchdown to take a 20-14 lead into halftime, and the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half.  Allen’s pick was probably the key play in the game; it was certainly important in terms of momentum.

Offensively the Bulldogs did not have much in the way of a ground game, but I am not as worried about that as I am the defensive letdown.  That’s because there isn’t a big need to run the ball when the passing game is working like it was Saturday night. 

PC’s strategy for defending Andre Roberts was a bit curious.  Actually, I am not completely sure the Blue Hose had a strategy for defending him.  Twelve catches for 184 yards and four TDs is a good night (and that’s despite dropping a sure 70-yard TD on the first play of the game).

Then there were the special teams…

Two missed extra points.  Yuck.  (Actually, there were three missed opportunities for PATs, as Kevin Higgins went for two at 26-14 early in the third quarter, which I think was too soon to start chasing the lost point.)  I wasn’t crazy about the kickoffs, either, although I think the coaches were trying some different personnel, so that may not be as big a problem.  The punts seemed a touch slow (in terms of getting them off), as well.

Against Appalachian State, The Citadel cannot afford to give away free points like that, or put the defense in a difficult position after a kickoff/punt.  The Mountaineers will be a formidable enough challenge as it is.

A few other, even more random thoughts:

  • The team wore navy pants again, this time with the “home” tops.  Light blue over dark blue — almost indescribably ugly.  Maybe against Appalachian State we can wear gold jerseys to match the navy pants.  Gold isn’t a school color, of course, but at this point that doesn’t appear to be a serious consideration.  The Citadel should just go all out and become the Oregon of the east.  The Bulldogs could have polka dot tops and horizontally striped pants, or some other Nike-approved combination.
  • Speaking of Oregon, the Ducks wore “throwback” uniforms on Saturday (in this case, from the 1990s, which isn’t all that far back, but we are talking about Oregon here).  The Ducks won big.  Navy wore throwback unis too, and also won big.  Previously winless Colorado also wore throwbacks, and proceeded to shut out Wyoming 24-0.  Maybe The Citadel should consider its own “throwbacks” day.  There would be plenty of options.
  • Attendance wasn’t that bad, particularly considering the weather.  It wasn’t great, but it could have been worse.  I will say that it shows the difference between scheduling Presbyterian and scheduling Webber International.  I expect a very good crowd will be at Johnson Hagood this Saturday for a 1pm start against Appalachian State, which will bring plenty of its own fans.
  • The halftime interview was unintentionally amusing.  Kevin Higgins is a very patient man.  Suggestion:  just have someone give Higgins a headset, and let Darren Goldwater ask him a question or two.  SportSouth actually did this when interviewing Wofford coach Mike Ayers at halftime of its broadcast of The Citadel-Wofford game last season, with Sam Wyche asking the questions.  It turned out to be fairly informative (with Ayers spending a lot more time with the announcers than any coach I’ve ever seen interviewed at halftime).
  • It may have “just” been PC, but Keith Gamble’s interception return for a TD was very impressive.  More of that, please.

Now it’s time for the “real” season, as The Citadel begins its eight-game SoCon slate.  The Bulldogs are 2-1, exactly what everyone thought they would be at this point.  I’m still not sure just what to make of this team, but so far, so good.