2016 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel at Gardner-Webb, to be played at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 17.

The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on the Big South Network, with Fabian Fuentes providing play-by-play and Alex Guest supplying the analysis.

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

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Shelby Star

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/13 press conference, including comments from Malik Diggs and DeAndre Schoultz (video)

Brent Thompson 9/14 radio show (video)

– The Citadel’s “steal” curtain defense

– Offense has yet to get going (but hey, the Bulldogs are still 2-0)

– For Dee Delaney, ascension is fueled by competition

Delaney wants to be the best

Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

As mentioned in the post introduction, the contest will be on the radio, and also on the Big South Network. If you have a Roku player, you can stream the game on your TV, as the Big South Network now has a Roku channel.

(No, the SoCon Digital Network doesn’t have a Roku channel yet. I’ve asked the league about it. More than once.)

A quick review of Gardner-Webb’s history, some of which I originally wrote when the Runnin’ Bulldogs faced the shako-wearing Bulldogs back in 2014:

Gardner-Webb’s roots can be traced back to 1905, when it was established as Boiling Springs High School. It became a junior college in 1928, and began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at North Carolina and North Carolina State.

Gardner-Webb is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 225-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina (as opposed to Boiling Springs, South Carolina; the two towns are about 30 miles apart).

There are around 4,900 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women. They hail from 37 states and 21 countries.

According to the school website:

Historically the University has played significant roles in teacher education and ministerial preparation for church-related vocations. Programs of instruction and experiences designed to prepare teachers and ministers continue to be major objectives of the University.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium, a multi-purpose facility with a capacity of 8,500 for football, and an artificial turf field.

Stadium Journey positively reviewed the setup in 2012. Apparently fried Oreos are a thing at Gardner-Webb.

The previous meeting between the two schools resulted in a 37-14 victory for The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, though it should be pointed out that Gardner-Webb led 14-13 midway through the third quarter. Twenty-four unanswered points later, however, Mike Houston had his first win as The Citadel’s head coach.

The matchup on Saturday is the return game of a home-and-home series set up a few years ago by Larry Leckonby, the former AD at The Citadel. Leckonby needed a home game for the 2014 season after Appalachian State and Georgia Southern announced they were moving to FBS. Thus, the agreement with Gardner-Webb was made.

That is the main reason why The Citadel only has five home games this season. Next year, Johnson Hagood Stadium will host six games, including non-conference matchups against Newberry and Presbyterian.

The Citadel’s other non-conference game in 2017 is at Clemson, one of five in-state teams the Bulldogs will face next season.

It is decidedly an “old school” schedule. Newberry was a regular foe for The Citadel from the end of World War II until 1960, while from 1915 until the late 1980s Presbyterian was an almost annual opponent on the Bulldogs’ home slate (the two schools having met on the gridiron 62 times in all).

Carroll McCray is the head coach of Gardner-Webb, and he also played there. McCray was an offensive lineman for Tom Moore.

McCray’s coaching career has included stops at Samford, Furman, and Mercer (working under Bobby Lamb at the latter two schools), along with Appalachian State and South Carolina (he was a staffer for Sparky Woods in Boone and Columbia).

He was the head coach at Austin Peay for four seasons before leaving to take an assistant’s position at Furman. McCray later was the head coach at North Greenville for one year before taking the Gardner-Webb job; his replacement at NGU was current Charleston Southern head coach Jamey Chadwell. McCray’s record in four years at his alma mater is 16-21 (4-12 in the Big South).

Last year, Gardner-Webb was 4-7, 2-4 in the Big South. The highlight of the campaign was a 34-20 victory over Liberty, which was ranked #15 at the time.

Incidentally, G-W also beat a team ranked #15 in 2013, when Richmond came to Boiling Springs and left with a 12-10 defeat. The Citadel is currently ranked…#15.

(Dum dum dum dummmm.)

Gardner-Webb’s biggest problem last season was scoring points. The Runnin’ Bulldogs only averaged 12.8 points per game. That was fifth-worst in all of FCS. G-W’s defense was solid (only allowing 20.6 points per contest), but couldn’t overcome the lack of productivity on the offensive side of the ball.

G-W was shut out three times, all on the road (by Wofford, Coastal Carolina, and Charleston Southern) and failed to break double digits in two other games (against Kennesaw State and Monmouth). Gardner-Webb actually won two low-scoring affairs (14-10 over Presbyterian and 13-9 over Virginia Union).

Gardner-Webb struggled on the ground (averaging just 3.6 yards per rush). However, there was a reason G-W ran 66% of the time anyway. When the Runnin’ Bulldogs tried to become Passin’ Bulldogs, things didn’t always go well. Just to give you an idea:

  • 46.0% completion percentage (ranked 117th out of 123 FCS teams)
  • 98.7 yards per game passing (118th)
  • 9.44 passing yards per completion (117th) [and only 4.3 yards per pass attempt]
  • 82.93 offensive team passing efficiency (118th)

The team also finished 113th in total offense, 109th in Red Zone offense, 107th in total first downs, and 118th in 3rd-down conversion rate (25.1%).

Defensively, Gardner-Webb’s only major negative was probably not forcing enough turnovers (14 in 11 games). However, in general the numbers looked good on that side of the ball, particularly the defensive third-down conversion rate (25.9%, which was third-best nationally).

Those anemic 3rd-down conversion rates for both G-W and its opponents meant that there was a lot of punting in Gardner-Webb games, an average of 13.5 boots per contest. In contrast, The Citadel and its opponents combined for 8.3 punts per game in 2015.

One other observation: Gardner-Webb held its own in 2015 when it came to scoring in the 2nd and 4th quarters, but was outscored by a combined 121-41 in the 1st and 3rd periods.

This season, Gardner-Webb is 1-1. It opened the campaign by travelling to Elon and extinguishing the Phoenix, 31-6. Last week, the Runnin’ Bulldogs ran aground at Western Carolina, losing 44-14. The game against The Citadel will be G-W’s home opener.

Against Elon, the score was 3-3 at halftime, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs came out of the locker room on fire. As part of a 327-yard rushing day, Gardner-Webb scored on four of its first five possessions of the second half, with the shortest of those scoring drives being 65 yards.

Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell rushed for 154 yards, while running back Khalil Lewis also hit triple figures on the ground and scored three touchdowns. Gardner-Webb was 8 of 13 on third down conversion attempts, a vast improvement in that category from what it managed throughout the 2015 season.

What made the outburst even more impressive was that offensive coordinator Brett Nichols missed the game to be present at the birth of his son.

Gardner-Webb’s second game was a complete reversal of its first, at least in the second half. Western Carolina held a slim 17-14 lead as the third quarter began, but the Catamounts dominated the game from that point forward, scoring 27 unanswered points on four long scoring drives.

WCU finished with 690 yards of total offense (averaging 8.0 yards per play), including 427 passing yards. Catamounts running back Detrez Newsome rushed for 148 yards on 19 carries.

Gardner-Webb punted six times in seven second-half possessions, turning the ball over on downs the only time it didn’t punt. G-W also fumbled a kickoff.

Gardner-Webb runs a spread offense, one that features several natives of South Carolina.

Tyrell Maxwell (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is a junior from Cordova who went to Edisto High School. Maxwell was a standout quarterback and safety in high school (appearing in the Shrine Bowl), but he has strictly been a dual-threat QB at Gardner-Webb.

Maxwell is 23-46 passing for 188 yards so far this season for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, with one interception. He has 225 rushing yards (5.9 yards per carry), with two touchdowns. Maxwell is the alltime rushing leader at the quarterback position for G-W.

Khalil Lewis (5’10”, 210 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore running back from Hilton Head Island. He rushed for over 100 yards against Elon and Western Carolina, the first Gardner-Webb running back to have back-to-back 100+yard rushing games in five years.

Redshirt senior tight end Mike Estes (6’4″, 230 lbs.)  is the primary receiving threat for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Estes was a first-team All-Big South performer last year after catching 29 passes (five of which went for TDs). He caught four passes in each of the first two games this season.

Estes had four receptions against The Citadel two years ago, including a 17-yarder.

Average size of the projected starters along the offensive line for Gardner-Webb: 6’3″, 303 lbs.

Left guard Caleb Smith (6’3″, 330 lbs.) is the biggest member of a very large o-line. He is also a preseason first-team All-Big South selection. The redshirt senior is from Woodruff.

Defensively, Gardner-Webb normally lines up in a 3-4, although against the triple option there may be some adjustments.

Bookend outside linebackers lead the way for the defense. Chad Geter (6’2″, 253 lbs.) is a redshirt senior from Irmo who went to Dutch Fork High School. A two-time All-Big South pick, Geter had 92 tackles last season.

Aaron Cook (6’1″, 235 lbs.) is an Edgefield resident. Cook was a second-team All-Big South choice last season. Two years ago versus The Citadel, he led the Runnin’ Bulldogs with nine tackles.

Free safety Spencer Havird (6’2″, 202 lbs.) is a three-year starter. The redshirt junior, a native of San Diego, led the Big South last season in passes defended.

Gardner-Webb will rotate as many as eight players along the three down lineman spots. There is a lot of bulk in that mix, too. The projected starters average 282 lbs.; the three listed players at nosetackle weigh 293 lbs., 309 lbs., and 295 lbs.

Placekicker Paul Schumacher (5’10”, 172 lbs.) was 7-12 on field goal attempts last season, with a long of 41. The junior also handles kickoffs and PATs. Schumacher competes as a long jumper on the school’s track team.

Andrew Komornik (6’5″, 263 lbs.) is a redshirt junior and one of the larger punters around. The resident of Ft. Mill was busy last season, with 70 punts (averaging 38.1 yards per boot).

Sophomore Brody Rollins (5’11”, 176 lbs.) is a speedster, and maybe the top breakaway threat on the Gardner-Webb roster. He is averaging 29.7 yards per kick return, and is also the backup quarterback for the Runnin’ Bulldogs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Boiling Springs, per the National Weather Service: a chance of rain before 2:00 pm, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, then a chance of showers after 4:00 pm. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 82 degrees. On Saturday night, there is a 30% chance of showers. It will be mostly cloudy, with a low around 67 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 15.5-point favorite over Gardner-Webb (the Bulldogs were also a 15.5-point favorite over Furman last week). The over/under is 37.5, one of the lower totals on the entire Division I slate.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 13-point favorite at Furman; Wofford is a 42-point favorite over Johnson C. Smith; Mercer is a 14.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech; and Western Carolina is a 29.5-point favorite over East Tennessee State.

The game between Western Carolina and ETSU will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway, the site for last Saturday’s Virginia Tech-Tennessee matchup. There may not be as many fans in Bristol for this week’s game.

Samford and VMI are both off this week.

Last week in non-conference action, SoCon teams were 5-1 against the spread, with only VMI failing to cover.

North Carolina, which The Citadel will play in its regular-season finale, is a 26-point favorite against James Madison.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 14th among FCS teams, down two spots from last week. Gardner-Webb is ranked 72nd, dropping 16 spots after its loss to Western Carolina.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 88% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 24-7.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (6th), Samford (17th), Western Carolina (21st), Wofford (26th), Furman (43rd), Mercer (46th), VMI (60th), East Tennessee State (110th).

Seven of the nine SoCon teams moved up in the rankings this week.

– According to the roster included in its game notes, Gardner-Webb has 39 players from North Carolina on its roster, the most from any state. Other states represented: South Carolina (20), Georgia (12), Florida (7), Alabama (3), Virginia (2), Tennessee (2), Illinois (2), and one each from California, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. In addition, offensive tackle Jordan Stalker is a native of Australia, and starting defensive end P.J. Fuimaono is from American Samoa.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– Gardner-Webb will play Miami (OH) later in the season. Future FBS opponents for the Runnin’ Bulldogs include Wyoming (2017), Appalachian State (2018), and Charlotte (2019). Last season, Gardner-Webb opened the season against South Alabama.

G-W has played some power-five conference schools in recent years, including Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, and Mississippi State.

– Tom Moore has the distinction of having been the head football coach at both Gardner-Webb (1979-82) and The Citadel (1983-86). His records at the two schools were similar — 17-24 at Gardner-Webb, and 18-25-1 at The Citadel.

– This week in the FCS national statistical rankings: The Citadel’s national lead in the “fewest penalties” category did not last long.

Other observations: The Citadel is tied for sixth nationally in turnover margin (+5). While the rushing numbers are modest compared to the previous two seasons (currently 21st), the offensive passing statistics have been good — sixteenth in completion percentage, fourth in yards per completion (18.6), and eighth in passing efficiency.

Among individuals, Dee Delaney is third nationally in passes defensed and interceptions, while Tyler Renew is 13th nationally in rush yards per game.

– Brent Thompson is the fourth head coach in school history to begin his career with two victories. If The Citadel wins on Saturday, he will be one of two to begin his career with three wins.

Ralph Foster started his career 4-0, including a 3-0 mark in 1906. That season is notable because the TSA Matrix Ratings System recently awarded the national championship to The Citadel for that year.

It hasn’t been widely publicized as of yet, unlike The Citadel’s 1871 national title. One other difference is that the 1871 championship is undisputed (both Yale and Princeton claim the 1906 title as well).

I’ll probably write more about the 1906 championship campaign early next year.

– Triple option oddity, the sequel: through two games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (seven) than had rushing attempts (five).

– Saturday’s game is one of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season. As it happens, the Bulldogs’ three Old North State opponents compete in three different leagues — the Big South  (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

The Citadel is favored on Saturday, and justifiably so. However, Gardner-Webb has proven to be a tough out at home in recent years, and has a history of giving good teams a hard time (as its victories over ranked opposition attest).

If the Cadets play a solid game on both sides of the ball, limiting turnovers and penalties, they should come back to Charleston with their third win of the season. It would be a great way to go into a bye week.

That said, nothing is easy at The Citadel, and that includes road football games. Any win away from home is a good win.

We’ll see if the team can get the job done on Saturday.

Secret memo to Mike Houston, The Citadel’s new football coach

NOTE: TOP SECRET. DISTRIBUTE MEMO ON NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS ONLY.

To: Mike Houston

From: A concerned alum

Re: Football at The Citadel

Hello there, coach. Congratulations on being named head football coach at The Citadel. I trust you and your family will enjoy Charleston.

Now, there are some important things you need to know in order to succeed in your new position. That’s why this memo is a big secret. We want to make sure our enemies don’t have a firm grasp on your plan of attack, which is going to be aggressive, with a lot of energy.

Let’s get right to the discussion.

– Some of our alums were impressed with your youthful enthusiasm at the Thursday press conference. There were multiple queries asking if you were, in fact, the youngest coach in program history.

Of course, Coach Houston, you’re not. Most of The Citadel’s coaches were actually younger than you when they were hired, even though you’re only 42. All but five, in fact.

However, four of those five older coaches are the most recent hires at The Citadel (Powers/Johnson/Zernhelt/Higgins). Given that recent trend, it’s not surprising that people think you’re really young for the job.

As an aside, you might be interested to know that The Citadel’s first two head football coaches were both only 22 years old when they got the job. One of them, Syd Smith, later played major league baseball.

I don’t think you’re a candidate for MLB when your coaching career is over, but perhaps you can emulate The Citadel’s second coach, Ralph Foster, in wearing a snazzy hat. If not, perhaps your offensive coordinator could wear it. He definitely needs an upgrade in the headgear department.

– Speaking of that offensive coordinator, I was glad to see you’re bringing Brent Thompson on board. It would have been tough for The Citadel to announce it wanted to hire a coach who ran the option, then hire a defensive-oriented coach whose option-running OC didn’t come along with him.

I’ve heard good things about Thompson (and your offensive line coach, Ron Boyd). Thompson’s explanation of the origination of his triple option offense was interesting:

I’ve probably taken the most from Navy and Georgia Southern. And I’ve worked with  coaches at Army and with Ashley Ingram at Navy, so I steal some things from there. And I try to gather as much film on Georgia Southern as [I] can.

Ingram, of course, was one of the three finalists for the job that you eventually got.

Having said that, you should know that a few alums are a little worried about your staff. Not only have you never coached at the D-1 level, the same is true for all of the assistants you’re bringing along from Lenoir-Rhyne (with the notable exception of Thompson).

Of course, you haven’t finalized your staff yet, and there are some positive rumors about potential assistants still to be added. Fans will be waiting on those hires with considerable interest (you may have noticed, they’re interested in just about everything related to the football program).

– There is a little bit of angst that surrounds the football program. You will probably pick up on this sooner rather than later. As to why it exists, it’s simple: The Citadel has not had consecutive winning seasons on the gridiron since the 1991-92 campaigns, the longest such stretch in school history.

There are a lot of alums who are ready to win again. Some of them can be a bit melodramatic about this. “I want one more SoCon title before I die,” they’ll proclaim.

– I was glad to hear you talk about the importance of retention. Among other things, you told the assembled media on Thursday that you want to field “older teams…guys who have been with us for three or four years.”

The reference to “older teams” (and the redshirting subtext) made me think of Jim Grobe and how he approached his recruiting/scholarship management at Wake Forest. Grobe won an ACC title at Wake Forest with that philosophy.

Your response to a question about transfers was excellent. “The institution does not lend itself to a lot of transfers,” you said. Indeed, it doesn’t.

– I can appreciate your comments that recruiting at Lenoir-Rhyne is not completely dissimilar to recruiting at The Citadel. However, a word of warning. Making comparisons to The Citadel can be tricky. Very tricky.

That’s why it’s important you get up to speed as quickly as possible about the institution that is now your employer. Learn as much about The Citadel as you possibly can. It’s not quite the same as the service academies, or small private schools, or anything else for that matter.

This statement you made was a good start:

You’ve got to understand exactly what The Citadel is. I’m excited about embracing the core values of The Citadel and recruiting student-athletes [who] fit the institution.

At The Citadel, you have to recruit prospective cadets who can play football. That’s the only way you can go about it. Recruiting from a football-first perspective is problematic, if not impossible.

– To be honest, coach, there is no way you are ever going to understand everything about the military college — and that’s okay. I don’t have a full grasp on the place myself, and I’m an old goat who graduated from the school.

You mentioned that a good friend of yours played football at The Citadel when Charlie Taaffe was the coach. People like that can help you start figuring things out. Talk to them early and often.

Also try to make a point of reaching out to younger alums, including former football players. I suspect you were going to do that anyway, but it’s critical to build some bridges in that area.

– The military component of the school is kind of important. It is, after all, a military college.

The key thing for you to remember is this: work with the system, not against it. Coaches who learn this, and who emphasize to their players the importance of conforming and being part of the system, tend to be successful. Coaches who fight the system every step of the way are never successful.

– It’s important to develop a positive relationship with the corps of cadets. An active and engaged corps can be a tremendous weapon for you on football Saturdays. Be sure to make a “stump speech” at the mess hall on a regular basis.

However, ultimately you aren’t responsible for the activities of the general student body. For the most part, when it comes to corps issues, let others sweat the details, at least in your first year.

– Coach Houston, we need to talk about the uniforms…

The Citadel has a contract with adidas which began last season. You might be surprised to know that before a home game against Furman, the team had to change jerseys because the SoCon officiating crew deemed them illegal.

That’s the kind of thing that might drive a coach crazy. Instead of concentrating on game preparation, the team got mired in Unigate.

Then there is the constantly revolving door of helmet logos. After a rare bout of consistency in this department, for unexplained reasons The Citadel changed its helmet design yet again for the season finale at Clemson.

Coach, I’m sure you would be puzzled at the team debuting a new design at the end of the year — and in a road game to boot. It made no sense.

However, it was just the latest in The Citadel’s tortured football uniform history. More than four years after I first wrote about it, there has been no effort to develop a standard. For a school as beholden to tradition as The Citadel, this is amazing (and infuriating).

Now, you may not be able to stop the latest helmet tweak, but you can probably make sure the jerseys feature the appropriate colors of light blue and white. Navy blue should not be a predominant color. Neither should red, or silver, or gray.

There is one other very important thing you need to fix.

Make sure the correct name of the school is on the jersey. Tell the administration you won’t lead the team out on to the field unless “THE CITADEL” is on the front of the jerseys (not “Citadel”). I can’t emphasize how critical this is to your future success.

Imagine if, during your playing career at Mars Hill, you had to wear jerseys that only read “Mars” across the front. You would be disappointed, because it wouldn’t be the name of your school (though the association with Otis Sistrunk’s alma mater might have amused a few people).

If you put the “The” back on the jerseys, coach, you will go a long way to satisfying the alumni sports blogger demographic. I know you want to keep that faction happy.

Congrats again on your appointment, Coach Houston. In your remarks to the press, it became apparent the job at The Citadel was one that had been of interest to you even before this year.

You clearly wanted the position, and think you can be successful in this role. I enjoyed watching the press conference (and subsequent interviews) and seeing your intensity, passion, and confidence.

The Citadel is a very unusual place, often difficult, occasionally intimidating, and at times frustrating. It’s also a very special place, one that engenders uncommon loyalty.

Embrace the challenge. We’re with you all the way.