Game Review, 2018: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package (mostly on the Rod Johnson kickoff return), The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release from The Citadel

School release from Mercer

– “Notes” section on the game from The Macon Telegraph

Facebook video postgame report by writers from Mercer’s student newspaper (I think in association with The Macon Telegraph)

Video from WCBD-TV

– Video from WCSC-TV (via Twitter)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

After the game was over, because I am a mondo sports nerd, I tweeted this semi-serious (but true!) factoid:

If you don’t mind indulging me, I wanted to expand on this, mainly by quoting The News and Courier‘s game commentary from October 3, 1926.

To set this up…

The Citadel traveled to Mercer for a game played on October 2, 1926. It was a hot afternoon (much like it was in Macon yesterday), and about 3,000 spectators were in attendance.

The Bears were a solid favorite. Mercer’s team included Wally Butts and the highly regarded Joseph “Phoney” Smith, who was one of the great halfbacks of his day. (Incidentally, if you think “Phoney” is an interesting nickname, Smith’s brother Byron was known as “Crook”.)

Wally Butts, of course, is best known for his long stint as the head football coach at Georgia (and for an infamous scandal involving Paul “Bear” Bryant).

Despite being at a perceived disadvantage, the Bulldogs were in control for much of the contest and led 6-0 before a Mercer score gave the home team a 7-6 lead. Then, with less than three minutes remaining, the Bears drove down to The Citadel’s 11-yard line, and attempted to punch in a decisive TD. However, Dick “Moonie” Brown and Eddie Doyle had other ideas:

Then came the most dramatic moment of the afternoon. The ball was snapped, Skelton [the Mercer quarterback] darted to the line of scrimmage, passed [by] it a few yards and seemed to rise up in the air and then shoot back towards his own goal, following a sickening impact of human bodies, as Moonie Brown’s head was buried in the runner’s stomach.

The ball rolled to one side. Immediately it was surrounded by blue jerseys. Eddie Doyle, who had only a few moments before replaced the brilliant but tired Oscar Reeder, scooped it up and began the long journey.

In the World War destroyers guarded huge ships crossing the Atlantic. This afternoon the dreadnaughts of The Citadel team conveyed the little destroyer of Macon’s hopes safely down the ninety yards.

Not a [single] Mercer man got within twenty yards near the squadron and to have gotten to Doyle, they would have had to kill several Citadel men.

Mercer’s game program included illustrations of several players, but only one Bulldog: Eddie Doyle.

The writer of the game story excerpted above was The News and Courier‘s sports editor, C.D. Weimer. In the spring of 1927, Weimer left Charleston to take an editorial position with another newspaper.

Before he left, though, Weimer was the guest of honor at a supper held at The Citadel which was attended by the entire Corps of Cadets. He was presented with a watch chain and a small gold football as a token of the Corps’ esteem for him.

Those were the days…

Speaking of the Corps of Cadets, they also celebrated victories a little differently back then than they do today. As described by The News and Courier at the time:

Big Saturday night crowds and heavy early-evening traffic were blocked for ten minutes at the corner of King and Wentworth streets last night when more than 400 Citadel cadets halted there for a hilarious celebration of the Blue and White’s victory over Mercer at Macon yesterday afternoon.

The cadets, led by Butler Doolittle, of Atlanta, of the Class of ’17, and former cheerleader at the military college, had marched the full three miles from the barracks at Hampton Park, cheering and singing all the way. Many had pulled out their shirt-tails. Those who wore khaki-colored shirts pulled out the tails and tied handkerchiefs on the end to gain the effect of a trailing white shirt-tail.

Swinging down Rutledge Avenue after leaving The Citadel, the cadets turned at Calhoun and then turned into King. They all but filled the narrow and busy thoroughfare as they swooped down toward Wentworth. Hundreds of shoppers stopped and gazed; not a few followed.

At Wentworth the perspiring, happy and now hoarse youths hoisted a cheerleader to shoulders and this busy corner heard yells seldom heard except at Hampton Park.

As the cadets ruled the corner impatient motorists pressed their horn buttons, but in the din they were hardly heard.

Okay, enough about the roaring ’20s. Let’s look at some stats from Saturday’s game:

Category The Citadel Mercer
Field Position -5.5 +5.5
Success Rate 47.8% 43.1%
Explosiveness 1.17 1.26
Finishing drives 4.8 (5) 5.2 (6)
Turnovers 0 1
Possessions 9 10
Offensive Plays 69 65
Yards/rush 5.2 3.5
Yards/pass attempt 16.7 7.1
Yards/play 6.9 5.8
3rd down conversions 6/14 6/12
4th down conversions 4/5 1/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 75.0 (3/4)
Net punting 31.0 48.7
Time of possession 32:36:00 27:24:00
TOP/offensive play 28.34 sec 25.15 sec
Penalties 4/50 4/18
1st down passing 3/4 118 yds 9/14 125 yds 1 sk
3rd/long passing 0/1 4/5 44 yds 3 sks
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play 9.8 5.8
3rd down average yards to go 4.6 7.3

Note: Mercer’s final play of the first half is not counted in the numbers above. Also, sacks (and pass plays resulting in sacks) are listed in the passing stats, not the rushing totals — particularly relevant in this game because The Citadel had five sacks.

Random observations:

– Mercer’s 3.5 yards per rush was the lowest allowed this season by the Bulldogs, continuing a positive trend over the first three games.

– The Citadel’s offensive Success Rate was its best so far in 2018, and its offensive Explosiveness quotient was easily the highest in the three contests played so far. The defensive Explosiveness number was the lowest for a Bulldogs opponent this year (which is good, just for clarification).

– The Citadel has had a time of possession edge of at least five minutes in all three games.

– In terms of Red Zone TD rate, the Bulldogs have gone 2 for 3 in all three of their matchups this year.

– This was the first game in which The Citadel did not have the field position edge. However, that doesn’t take into account the kick return TD.

– The Bulldogs’ average yards to go on third down of 4.6 yards was a significant improvement from the first two games of the season, and also indirectly led to the team going for it on 4th down several times. The Citadel was frequently in third-down situations where only four or five yards were needed to move the chains; when the Bulldogs didn’t make it on third down, Brent Thompson was comfortable going for it on 4th-and-short (four of the five fourth-down attempts came on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2).

– Jordan Black threw ten passes against Mercer. Only three of them came in true passing situations (2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long). Given the chance to throw a higher percentage of his passes in standard down-and-distance circumstances, Black excelled. On those seven pass attempts, he was 5 for 7 for 167 yards.

– In a game with more of its share of big plays, one of the most important was a five-yard gain. With the Bulldogs deep in their own territory midway through the fourth quarter, Curt Nixon made a nice catch on 3rd-and-3 to pick up a first down. Four plays later, The Citadel led for the first time in the contest.

– Only two kickoff returns in The Citadel’s gridiron history have been longer than Rod Johnson’s 94-yard game-winner on Saturday. Bud Pough had a 100-yard KOR for a touchdown against Appalachian State in 2002, and Danny Miller had a 95-yarder versus Wofford in 1979.

Johnson’s kickoff return matched Carlos Frank’s 94-yard TD against Georgia Southern in 1996.

– Raleigh Webb’s 77-yard touchdown catch from Jordan Black was the 10th-longest pass play in school annals, and the longest since 2008, when Bart Blanchard threw a 78-yarder to Andre Roberts versus Webber International. It was the longest TD reception caught by a Bulldog not named Andre Roberts in this century.

– Khafari Buffalo’s first career interception was a big one, and a rather athletic play to boot. He was injured making the pick and did not return to the game. I hope he is okay, as it appeared on replay that his head hit the turf when he fell.

– I also wish Mercer quarterback Robert Riddle the best after his unfortunate injury late in the game. He seemed to hurt his shoulder, and it did not look good.

I was impressed with Riddle, who has a sneaky-strong throwing arm. He is one of those guys who you don’t think can make the throw he’s about to make, but then the ball gets where it needs to go. Riddle had a little help from some of his receivers (particularly Marquise Irvin).

– If Riddle is going to be out for an extended period of time, at least Mercer has the benefit of an experienced (and in my opinion, talented) quarterback in Kaelan Riley. The Bears now have a bye week, which should help in his preparation for their next game, which is at Yale.

While I am not someone who automatically supports SoCon teams against non-league opponents, I am definitely rooting for the Bears in that matchup.

– I could write a 5000-word screed on how poor the officiating was at times on Saturday, but I’ll just say that having instant replay doesn’t help if it isn’t utilized properly. Also, there isn’t much the guy in the booth can do about bad pass interference calls, especially those seemingly made long after the play was over.

It made the victory for the Bulldogs that much sweeter, as they had to overcome more than they really should have. My basic takeaway from the contest was that both teams played well, but that the better team on the day deservedly won the game.

I’ll post a preview of the Towson game later in the week. The Tigers will be a tough matchup for The Citadel, as they look to be considerably better than expected.

That writeup probably won’t be as long as most of my previews. I am very busy over the course of the next few weeks (which is why I could not make the trip to Macon), and will not be able to put as much time into research, writing, etc. There will probably not be a review of the Towson game, and my ETSU preview in two weeks will likely be quite short.

That’s not a big deal, though. A little less verbiage on this blog isn’t going to hurt anybody.

Go Dogs!

Game Review, 2017: Chattanooga

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” section, The Post and Courier

“By the numbers”, The Post and Courier

Game story, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Game story, University Echo

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WRCB-TV

Game story, The Chattanoogan

AP game story

School release (The Citadel)

School release (Chattanooga)

Extended box score

Postgame comments from UTC coach Tom Arth (video)

ESPN3 replay of the game

The Citadel needed that win. It wasn’t easy, to the surprise of no one, but that’s okay — it wasn’t supposed to be. The bottom line is the Bulldogs went to Chattanooga and got the victory.

Random observations:

– The Citadel’s special teams weren’t at their best on Saturday. The missed 27-yard field goal hurt, but the real problem came in defending kickoffs and punt returns.

Chattanooga freshman Brandon Dowdell had 167 return yards, which is why three of UTC’s eleven possessions began at or inside the 50-yard line, despite the fact the Bulldogs committed no turnovers during the contest. Dowdell’s 37-yard punt return in the second quarter gave the Mocs a first down on The Citadel’s 35-yard line, and UTC scored its second (and final) touchdown of the game on the ensuing drive.

For the game, Chattanooga had a 14.0-yard edge in average field position, a significant margin. As a comparison, the largest field position differential advantage in all FBS games on Saturday was 16.7 by TCU against Kansas, a game the Horned Frogs won 43-0.

– Chattanooga only had four second-half possessions. The first three drives for UTC in the second half resulted in just 54 total yards and five first downs. Two of those first downs came via a defensive penalty; one of those calls was dubious, and the other was a simply terrible officiating decision.

Despite the bizarre rulings by the men in stripes, the Bulldogs’ defense kept the Mocs in check throughout the second half until the final possession, when The Citadel almost unfathomably gave up 69 yards to Chattanooga in just five plays.

However, the defense held Chattanooga at bay when it counted, with Aron Spann’s second interception of the afternoon sealing the victory.

– The Citadel was 8 for 17 on third down, which is solid. Meanwhile, Chattanooga was 0 for 7 trying to convert on third down. That discrepancy explains the difference in time of possession (37:02 – 22:58) and plays (72 to 50).

The Mocs actually averaged more yards rushing per attempt than The Citadel, 7.5 to 6.2. Of course, the Bulldogs had many more rushes (65 to 19).

If you took out plays of 30+ rushing yards (along with sacks and kneeldowns), Chattanooga would have averaged 4.82 yards per rush, while The Citadel would have averaged 3.97 yards per carry.

– Breakdown of running plays for The Citadel: the A-backs got 28 carries, including 15 from Cam Jackson. The B-backs had 19 carries, the quarterback position finished with 14, and the wideouts had two rushes.

– The Citadel had four rushing plays of 30+ yards on Saturday. Dominique Allen, Grant Drakeford, Raleigh Webb, and Rod Johnson all had one each.

In their four previous SoCon games this season, the Bulldogs had a combined total of *one* 30+ yard rushing play.

The big play has been all too absent for much of this year for The Citadel’s offense. Hopefully its return against Chattanooga is a sign of things to come.

– I’m glad Grant Drakeford didn’t get hurt on his 35-yard run in the third quarter. Drakeford was brought down by a horsecollar tackle, and it was ugly. He could easily have been seriously injured on that play.

Speaking of injuries, let’s hope Kailik Williams can return to action soon. He missed much of the second half on Saturday with what was called a “lower leg deal” by head coach Brent Thompson.

– I thought UTC coach Tom Arth may have made a mistake early in the fourth quarter when he elected to punt on 4th-and-9 from the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line. At the time UTC trailed 17-14.

I understand that 4th-and-9 is not an easy conversion opportunity, but it seemed to me trying to pick up the first down that deep in opposing territory was the better move than giving up a possession (particularly in a game like that; as mentioned, UTC only had four second-half possessions).

Instead of pinning the Bulldogs deep, the punt sailed into the end zone for a touchback. On the very next play from scrimmage, Dominique Allen burst through the UTC defense for a career-long 54-yard run. That took care of any field position advantage.

– Chattanooga has now gone four straight games without causing a turnover.

– The Citadel is now 2-1 on the road in league play this year, with a conference game at Furman still to play. The Bulldogs have won at least half of their SoCon road games in each of the last seven seasons.

– The Bulldogs had 405 yards rushing against UTC, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Last year, there were three conference games in which the Bulldogs had 400+ rushing yards while averaging six or more yards per carry — Samford, East Tennessee State, and Western Carolina.

Upcoming: a big, big week. Not only is it Homecoming Week at The Citadel, but the coveted Silver Shako is on the line as VMI comes to town.

It’s time to ratchet the intensity up another ten or twenty notches…