2018 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

Rarely does a football team live up to its nickname the way The Citadel’s gritty squad did at Johnson Hagood Stadium Saturday afternoon. They don’t call them the Bulldogs for nothing.

Third-string quarterback Joe Sumrall, pressed into action by a rash of injuries, directed Bobby Ross’ team to one first-half touchdown and freshman running back Alvin Perkins exploded 54 yards for another. Handed that cushion, The Citadel defense then hung on to take a 13-9 victory over arch-rival Furman.

“I’ve never been as proud of a team as I am of this one today,” said a relieved Ross afterwards. “We were depleted by injuries, and some other guys were playing hurt. But these kids have shown a lot of spunk all season.”

The Post and Courier, November 16, 1975

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 27, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dominique Allen supplies the analysis. Danielle Hensley is the sideline reporter. 

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 (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be 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 in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 10/23 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 10/24 radio show (video)

The Citadel’s oldest fan (presumably) is 101 years old; she watches the Bulldogs while drinking rum and Coke

Bulldogs outlast VMI, retain the coveted Silver Shako

“The Heat” — VMI game (video)

Zane Najdawi a preseason all-conference selection for the Bulldogs; hoopsters picked to finish 6th in the SoCon by the coaches

“Meet the Bulldogs” basketball event to be held outside of Gate 2 at Johnson Hagood Stadium

– Furman enters “must win” portion of the season

This is Hall of Fame weekend at The Citadel. Originally, it was supposed to take place on the weekend of the Charleston Southern game, but then that matchup got postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

This year’s inductees include basketball player Cameron Wells, wrestler Odie Delaney, baseball pitcher Brian Rogers, football player Gene Brown, and honorary enshrinee LTG Claudius “Bud” Watts III, the former school president.

It is an excellent class, but since this is a post that is mostly about football, allow me to single out Gene Brown for a moment. I’m very glad to see him honored; if anything, his election was overdue:

  • Brown was named the Southern Conference’s offensive player of the week four times in 1988. No other Bulldog football player has ever been honored that many times by the SoCon in one season. Brian Ruff was the league’s defensive player of the week three times in both 1975 and 1976; Stump Mitchell, Jack Douglas, and Everette Sands each had three conference offensive player of the week nods in one season (in 1980, 1990, and 1992, respectively). That is an extremely impressive group of players, and Brown actually went one better than all of them.
  • His most critical performance that year came in The Citadel’s 20-3 victory over then-#1 Marshall. On one of the grand occasions in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium, Brown returned from injury to lead the Bulldogs to a victory as memorable as any football game ever played on the peninsula. Do you remember the goalposts? I do…
  • Besides all-conference and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year honors, Gene Brown was also named the South Carolina State Player of the Year for the 1988 season. He became just the third Bulldog to receive that designation, after Andrew Johnson and Brian Ruff (who picked up that honor twice).
  • He had 286 yards against VMI in the Oyster Bowl! On only 15 carries!
  • That win over Navy at Johnson Hagood Stadium was quite nice, too.

To more than a few observers, the 1988 season marked a turning point in Bulldog football. Supporters and players came to understand that, even in the “modern era” of college football, The Citadel could do more than just compete on the gridiron — the Bulldogs could win, and win big, and with a lot of style. The program’s identity (then and now) as an option team was solidified during that campaign.

The architect of that change in outlook was Charlie Taaffe. The player who best illustrated Taaffe’s vision, and who first demonstrated its power, was Gene Brown.

Saturday will also be Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel (well, the football promotion version; after all, every day is military appreciation day at The Citadel). When Furman last visited Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2016, it was also Military Appreciation Day. Expect the usual festivities associated with the event; the “Block C” logo at midfield already sports red, white, and blue coloring.

Before getting too far into this week’s preview, I wanted to briefly discuss the victory over VMI. Obviously, retaining the coveted Silver Shako was paramount, and the team succeeded in getting the job done.

That said, it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. The Bulldogs still have issues that need to be fixed if they want to have a strong finish to the 2018 campaign.

When asked on his radio show about where the team could take away from the win over the Keydets, Brent Thompson mentioned “figuring out a way to win” (not a small thing, given the Bulldogs’ close losses this season). He also stated The Citadel had “played well at times on defense” and that he was pleased with some of the adjustments made on the offensive line.

Offensively, the Bulldogs finally produced some big running plays, including Jordan Black’s 71-yard TD dash in the third quarter.

The Citadel had three 20+ yard rushes versus VMI, which increased The Citadel’s total number this season of such running plays in SoCon action to seven. Those three plays included two touchdowns; the third long run led to a field goal.

I was slightly disappointed in the way the game ended from the Bulldogs’ perspective. The offense had a chance to essentially ice the game twice, and failed to do so. The defense allowed a big play TD in the fourth quarter, and later gave up a potential tying touchdown on a last-gasp drive by VMI.

The Citadel did enough to win the game, particularly on special teams, where the Bulldogs had a huge edge in the contest. Despite that, the Bulldogs still gave the Keydets a chance to force overtime. That isn’t the ideal recipe for long-term success.

However, you have to give the opponent credit too, even one that hasn’t won a game in a while.

Before the season began, I thought VMI might be truly atrocious, perhaps one of the very worst teams in all of FCS. While the Keydets haven’t been good, they are considerably more competitive than I expected.

VMI has played six league contests. In four of those, the Keydets lost by 3 or fewer points, and they could have easily won three of the matchups. Reece Udinski is a good quarterback, and he has a few playmakers with which to work. Defensively, VMI has really struggled, but opponents still have earn their points against them.

When VMI finally breaks through and wins a game, I think the team that loses to them will be very unhappy — but the squad that plays the Keydets in the following game shouldn’t be all that excited, either.

This is the first time since 2012 that The Citadel has played VMI and Furman in back-to-back weeks. That year, the Bulldogs defeated VMI 27-24 in Lexington, and followed that up with a 42-20 triumph over Furman in Greenville.

Before then, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time The Citadel played the Keydets and Paladins in consecutive games. That season, the Bulldogs beat VMI 50-0 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, then won 20-14 at Furman to clinch the Southern Conference title.

Future scheduling report: Furman has the following games lined up against FBS opponents:

  • 2019: Georgia State and Virginia Tech (remember, next year FCS teams can play 12 regular-season games)
  • 2020: Tennessee
  • 2021: North Carolina State
  • 2022: Clemson
  • 2024: Mississippi
  • 2025: Clemson

The Citadel’s future FBS foes (so far) look like this:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech
  • 2020: Clemson
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina
  • 2024: Clemson
  • 2025: Mississippi

Clemson and Mississippi are basically switching out the two SoCon schools as their respective FCS matchups in 2024 and 2025.

As for non-conference FCS opponents over the next five years: Furman currently has scheduled matchups with Colgate (two games) and Kennesaw State; in addition, Clay Hendrix stated this week on his radio show that the Paladins will face Charleston Southern next year in Greenville.

Meanwhile, The Citadel will play Towson, Elon (two games), Charleston Southern (three games), and Campbell (two games). Both schools have slots available to add other non-conference contests.

From the preview of the game on Furman’s website:

The game will mark the 98th meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs in a series that began in 1913 and has been played annually since 1919, with a brief three-year cessation from 1943-45 when the two schools closed ranks with the rest of America and the Allies to fight Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito in World War II.

I couldn’t help but notice this blurb. For one thing, “Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito” is a phrase doesn’t make a lot of game previews. However, Furman used the same line in its game notes for the 2015 matchup.

The Citadel won that contest 38-17, spoiling Furman’s Homecoming, so perhaps history can repeat itself.

Furman is 2-4 overall so far this season, 2-2 in the Southern Conference. The Paladins had a very tough start to their 2018 campaign, beginning with a 48-7 loss to Clemson.

The loss to the Tigers was predictable, but a 45-7 beatdown at the hands of Elon the following week was not. The two teams had split their matchups the previous season, with the Paladins prevailing in a playoff game.

In this contest, though, the Phoenix had more rushing yards (275) than Furman had total yards (262). Elon added 173 yards passing, while the Paladins committed three turnovers and were never really in the game.

FU’s would-be first home game of the season (against Colgate) was cancelled, thanks to Hurricane Florence. The next Saturday, the Paladins blew a 27-6 second-half lead and lost at East Tennessee State, 29-27. The winning points for the Buccaneers came on a late-game safety with the score tied, something you don’t see every day.

Furman rebounded the following week, outlasting Western Carolina 44-38. It was the Paladins’ first home game of the season (on September 29), and the team responded by jumping out to a 31-10 lead, then hanging on down the stretch to pick up the victory. The game was filled with numerous big plays, including a kickoff return for a touchdown by FU’s Dejuan Bell.

After a bye, the Paladins then played their best game of the season, defeating Wofford 34-14. Starting quarterback Harris Roberts threw for three touchdown passes and rushed for two others. The Paladins’ defense kept the Terriers’ offense in check, in large part by getting off the field on third down (Wofford was only 3 for 11 converting third down attempts).

Last week, Samford defeated Furman 38-25. The Paladins led 19-9 early in the third quarter, but Samford proceeded to score four TDs in less than eleven minutes of game action to put the game away. The key play was a 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown by SU defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden.

Despite the loss, the most impressive performer during the game was arguably Furman placekicker/punter Grayson Atkins, who kicked three field goals of 50 or more yards, and averaged 45.8 yards on six punts.

Furman’s regular starting quarterback is Harris Roberts (6’4″, 209 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia. For the season, Roberts is 37-54 passing, with four TDs against two interceptions, averaging an outstanding 10.1 yards per attempt (this does not account for sacks).

The problem for the Paladins has been keeping Roberts on the field. He missed much of the Clemson game, all of the Elon game, and left the Samford game last week early in that contest.

Whether or not he plays this Saturday is a big question, and Furman is trying to keep The Citadel guessing. FU’s depth chart lists four potential starters at quarterback.

Everyone knows that when a team has two quarterbacks, it really has none. What everyone doesn’t know is that if a team has four quarterbacks, it really has -2.

Redshirt senior Kealand Dirks (6’0″, 250 lbs.) was a preseason first-team all-SoCon pick, after being a second-team selection following last season. Dirks is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this year after averaging 4.7 yards per rush in 2017.

Devin Wynn (6’0″, 195 lbs.) has just as many carries this year as Dirks, but has gained 118 more yards. The sophomore tailback got his first start last week versus Samford, running for 83 yards on 13 rushes.

Junior flanker Thomas Gordon (6’0″”, 174 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with sixteen. Gordon, a preseason second-team all-league choice, is averaging 16.2 yards per catch; he had a 77-yard touchdown catch against Samford.

Although listed as a backup, another receiver to watch is Dejuan Bell (5’9″, 160 lbs.), a freshman from North Augusta who was a high school track star. As noted in the overview of Furman’s season, Bell returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Carolina. He also had a 45-yard TD reception in that game.

Although he only has two receptions this season, by rule I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who will traditionally be seen running wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during this game. Jake Walker (6’4″, 228 lbs.), a sophomore, was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 283 lbs. Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 286 lbs.), a versatile lineman who began the year as the center (and who has also played tackle for the Paladins) was a preseason second-team all-league pick, and the redshirt sophomore arguably should have been on the preseason first team.

The linchpin of Furman’s defensive unit is senior noseguard Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 278 lbs.), who has started 36 games for the Paladins during his college career. Reid was a second-team all-conference choice after last season; it is a testament to how many outstanding defensive linemen there are in the league that Reid did not make first team, because he is really good.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 56. The sophomore linebacker was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick. He also has one of the Paladins’ three interceptions this season.

Middle linebacker Donavan Perryman (6’2″, 225 lbs.) has 46 stops on the campaign. Perryman is a sophomore from Rock Hill.

Although not listed as a starter, Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) warrants mentioning. He has seven sacks from the “Bandit” position (including three against Wofford). Hope is a redshirt freshman from Ocala, Florida, who had 56 career sacks in high school.

Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 178 lbs.) was a second-team all-conference pick after last season, and the senior from Nashville was a preseason first-team selection this year. The strong safety has 31 career starts.

As discussed earlier, Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 187 lbs.) handles both the placekicking and punting duties for the Paladins, and handles them very well. The sophomore from Inman is 7 for 9 on field goal tries this year, with his two misses from 48 and 50 yards, and the three aforementioned makes of 50+. Atkins also handles kickoffs, and has a touchback rate of 51.6%.

Besides returning kicks, Dejuan Bell is now listed as the primary punt returner for Furman.

Evan Vaughn (6’2″, 227 lbs.) is in his third season as the Paladins’ long snapper. He is a junior from Honea Path.

Reese Vita (6’1″, 203 lbs.), the holder on placements, is a redshirt junior quarterback from Sarasota. He somehow was not listed as a potential starting QB on Furman’s depth chart this week, surely a missed opportunity.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly cloudy, with a 20% chance of showers, and highs in the upper 60s.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 54 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is a 9-point favorite over Mercer; VMI is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Chattanooga; and East Tennessee State is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina.

Samford is off this week.

Those lines are all as of Thursday evening.

– Also of note:  Towson is a 1-point underdog at Delaware, while Charleston Southern is a 23-point underdog against Kennesaw State.

Alabama is off this week, preparing for its November 3 contest at LSU — a night game in Baton Rouge.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. Furman is ranked 44th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 40% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 28.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (8th), Elon (12th), Colgate (14th), Kennesaw State (18th), Yale (21st), Wofford (26th), Samford (34th), Chattanooga (36th), North Carolina A&T (43rd), Mercer (48th), East Tennessee State (49th), San Diego (62nd), Charleston Southern (79th), Western Carolina (85th), Savannah State (99th), South Carolina State (101st), VMI (105th), Hampton (109th), Presbyterian (116th), Gardner-Webb (117th), Davidson (118th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, Dartmouth, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio State. Some other notables:  Texas is 12th, UCF 13th, Texas A&M 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Missouri 21st, Auburn 23rd, Mississippi State 25th, South Carolina 27th, Duke 33rd, Boston College 34th, Virginia 36th, Appalachian State 37th, Army 39th, Virginia Tech 46th, Tennessee 52nd, Florida State 53rd, Maryland 55th, Vanderbilt 61st, Georgia Tech 66th, Wake Forest 67th, North Texas 76th, Georgia Southern 81st, Air Force 83rd, Toledo 86th, Arkansas 93rd, North Carolina 95th, Coastal Carolina 100th, Navy 104th, Liberty 106th, Old Dominion 113th, Charlotte 118th, UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Furman’s notable alumni:  philologist Maurice Bloomfield, opera singer Elizabeth Bishop, and soccer player/fisherman/rapper Clint Dempsey.

– Furman’s roster includes 35 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  North Carolina (15 players), South Carolina (15), Tennessee (10), Florida (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (4), Ohio (2), and Virginia (1).

While Furman has 15 players who attended 14 different high schools in South Carolina (two Paladins went to Dreher), none of them are graduates of legendary gridiron steamroller Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is a staggering omission that will undoubtedly have a permanently negative impact on the FU football program, and for that matter the university as a whole. Ignoring the mighty maroon and orange is no way to run an institution.

– 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 very similar to the one released for the VMI game. There are two changes, both due to an injury to Rod Johnson, who may not play the rest of the season. As a result, Khafari Buffalo is listed as one of the Bulldogs’ two kick returners, while Dante Smith is now a potential starter at one of the A-back positions.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-8-1 for games played on October 27. The Bulldogs are 5-1-1 at home on that date. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1951:  Before a Parents’ Day crowd of 6,085, The Citadel defeated Presbyterian 35-0. Starting quarterback Buddy Friedlin ran for two touchdowns, including a 62-yard sprint down the sideline. Other Bulldogs to score that day: Rudy Willcox, Curtis Bozeman, and Johnny Mamajek (who rushed for 121 yards on 15 carries). The game was described as a “rough and tumble” affair and featured a post-game fistfight between two opposing linemen.
  • 1984:  In Boone, North Carolina, The Citadel beat Appalachian State 21-5, the fourth straight victory for the Bulldogs. While the Mountaineers outgained the Bulldogs, four turnovers by App State proved costly. Cliff Walters intercepted a pass to set up one TD, and another Bulldogs score came after Warren McGrier recovered a fumbled punt. Robert Hill threw a touchdown pass to Victor Frazier and ran for another; the third TD for The Citadel came on a run by Mike Lewis.
  • 1990:  One week following the Bulldogs’ upset of South Carolina, Jack Douglas ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-15 victory over East Tennessee State. The 200 yards rushing would prove to be a career high for Douglas, who also threw a pass to Cornell Caldwell for 64 yards. Others scoring TDs for The Citadel that day: Erick Little and Everette Sands. Torrence Forney, fresh off the most famous recovered onside kick in Bulldog history, intercepted two passes. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium that afternoon: 13,217.

– Kickoff for that 1990 contest was at the somewhat unusual time of 4:00 pm ET. The Citadel experimented with that start time for a few games. Why, you ask?

Well, according a newspaper column by the estimable Ken Burger, the Downtown Merchants Association complained to the school that earlier kickoff times were hurting downtown businesses, while the Restaurant Association claimed night games had a negative effect on the local dinner trade.

You just can’t please everybody.

– The excerpt from The Post and Courier at the top of this post is from the game story of The Citadel’s 13-9 win over Furman in 1975. I just wanted to note that, despite neither team being in contention for a league crown, the article was on page A-1 of the newspaper. The front page also featured a large photo of a play from the game.

Attendance that afternoon (it was Homecoming): 17,345. Defensive stars from the game for the Bulldogs included Brian Ruff (nine tackles, two fumble recoveries), Tony Starks, and Ron Shelley. The Citadel clinched the victory when Cary Vick forced a fumble on a sack, which was recovered by David Sollazzo.

– Completed unrelated to sports, and maybe anything else: While researching this post, I learned that for the 1951-52 school year, The Citadel’s appropriation from the state was $825,000.

Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs played their poorest game in several seasons. It was disappointing, and unacceptable.

I don’t know if The Citadel will win this week, but I am very confident that the squad will put in a much better performance than it did last season.

Whatever happens at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday, we’ll be watching.

2018 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. VMI

Scenes of rare color preceded the game. As the crowd filled in every gate four bands played, and sailors from the destroyer squadrons, soldiers from Fort Moultrie, and The Citadel cadet corps marched into the stadium.

The blue-clad cadets spread out in front of the stands in regiment [order] and gave cheers for The Citadel team. All the while hundreds of mere civilians were swarming into the seats on four sides of the field. As soon as the cadets were seated they began their songs and cheers.

The VMI squad could be seen outside the stadium as it waited to enter, their red jerseys glistening in the sun. The four bands vied with each other. One Citadel cheerleader led a vicious-looking bulldog along the sidelines in front of the cadets. The crowd was tense and seemingly impatient for the arrival of the teams.

The VMI team entered the field by the Sumter Street gate and was given a big hand by the crowd as it started across the field to the bench, led by the towering captain, Roy Dunn…they had the field to themselves for ten minutes before The Citadel squad arrived, and got a resounding ovation.

The News and Courier, October 12, 1930

 

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 20.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3, and is also available via ESPN College Extra. Wade Branner will handle play-by-play, while Chip Tarkenton 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 (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be 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 in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 10/16 press conference (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/17 radio show (video)

Brent Thompson would like one play back from the ETSU game

VMI hopes “Air Raid” can outmatch the Bulldogs’ ground game

Radio interview of VMI coach Scott Wachenheim on “The Game of the Year”

– My review of last year’s game between The Citadel and VMI

As was the case last week, Saturday’s game broadcast has been picked up as part of the ESPN College Extra set of games. What that means: if you have DirecTV, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-Verse, or Spectrum, you may be able to watch the game on a “regular” channel, depending on the extent of the package you have with your respective provider.

On DirecTV, for example, the game will be on channel 792. If you have AT&T U-Verse, check channels 614 through 621; the matchup should be on one of those channels. For Verizon FIOS, the ESPN College Extra channels are 821 through 828. Spectrum’s ECE channels are 505 through 512.

The newspaper blurb that opened this post is from the play-by-play of the 1930 game between The Citadel and VMI, the third meeting in the series and the first to take place in Charleston. It was also Homecoming at The Citadel.

The Bulldogs won that day, 7-6, when captain “Pop” Wilson threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Larkin Jennings. Wilson added the extra point (on a drop kick) to provide the winning margin. VMI had taken the lead on a touchdown earlier in the game, but the Keydets’ PAT attempt was blocked by Bulldog end John Carlisle.

A throng of 7,000 spectators watched the battle between the military colleges, the largest crowd to watch a football game in Charleston at that time.

Before moving to this week’s preview of The Citadel-VMI, I wanted to briefly discuss a couple of aspects of the ETSU game.

– The two fourth-down plays in the first half that the Bulldogs failed to convert were very reasonable calls. I agreed with going for it on both occasions. You could perhaps argue about the actual play calls, but The Citadel had been successful in previous weeks running similar stuff on fourth and short.

I might have done something differently (a pass play, for instance), but I’m not going to quibble about that kind of thing. The fourth down plays didn’t work out; that does not mean the decision to go for them was wrong.

– In one sense, “the numbers didn’t add up” in the game versus East Tennessee State. Yes, the Bulldogs had 167 more yards and ran 26 more plays. However, a closer look at the statistics shows something else.

On offense, The Citadel averaged only 4.07 yards per rush (in all the stats to follow, sacks and sack yardage are taken out). That isn’t a dominant performance, particularly when the Bulldogs only rushed for a total of 216 yards.

While the passing yardage came in handy, that’s obviously not the Bulldogs’ bread and butter.

Just as a reminder, The Citadel’s yards per rush in SoCon play over the previous three seasons:

  • 2015: 5.57 yards per rush
  • 2016: 5.28 yards per rush
  • 2017: 5.24 yards per rush

So far in 2018, the Bulldogs are averaging 4.33 yards per rush in SoCon action.

What is the difference? Well, I think a large part of the problem is the lack of “big plays” in the running game. Defining a big play as one of 20 or more yards from scrimmage, The Citadel’s totals in league games over the past three years:

  • 2015: 19
  • 2016: 15
  • 2017: 21

In four conference matchups thus far in 2018, the Bulldogs have only four rushes of 20 or more yards.

Three of them were against Mercer (and as it happens, The Citadel won that game). The other came on the last play of the first half of the Wofford game, when Lorenzo Ward picked up 43 yards while the Terriers were in “safe mode” on defense.

The Citadel has to break a long gainer in the run game more often. It is very hard to drive the field solely in 3- and 4-yard increments.

– Defensively, the Bulldogs did a lot of things right against ETSU, but they missed a few chances at sacks (one of which resulted in the Buccaneers’ biggest offensive play of the game) and, perhaps more importantly, they did not force a turnover.

The Citadel has only forced two fumbles in four SoCon games. One came on a punt against Wofford, when the ball bounced off one of the Terriers’ blocking backs (which isn’t really much of a “forced” fumble, if we’re being honest). The other was a strip sack versus Mercer that somehow wound up resulting in a first down for the Bears.

In terms of pass defense, league opponents have the following line: 60-94 (63.8% completion rate), six touchdowns, four interceptions. Taking out sacks, the Bulldogs are allowing 7.87 yards per attempt. The Citadel’s passes defensed rate is 14.9%. The PD rate is fine, but the yards per attempt number is too high. Of course, sample size has to be considered.

Simply put, the Bulldogs have to pick up a few more defensive turnovers.

At the end of this post, I’ve included photos from the ETSU game. They aren’t very good. You’ve been warned.

VMI has yet to win a game this season. The Keydets did not win a game last season.

The difference is that at least this year, VMI has occasionally been entertaining. In 2017, VMI only scored 8.0 points per game, worst in all of FCS.

Head coach Scott Wachenheim decided to do something about that — namely, switching to the “Air Raid” offense. He hired a new offensive coordinator (Brian Sheppard, who had been at Northern Arizona), and so far this season the Keydets have been unleashing flying pigskins all over an unsuspecting Shenandoah Valley.

VMI is averaging over 58 pass attempts per game. Over 72% of the Keydets’ offensive plays from scrimmage have been throws or sacks.

Has it worked? Well…sort of. VMI is averaging 25.2 points per game, which is a vast improvement over last season. However, the Keydets tend to leave their defense on the field a lot (a time of possession shortfall of over five minutes), and the defense is not nearly good enough to handle the load. VMI is allowing 54.2 points per contest.

One caveat: the defense has been slightly more respectable at home than on the road. VMI lost a tough matchup to ETSU earlier this season (27-24), so any Bulldog fan who might be overconfident about Saturday’s game might want to think again. The Keydets also competed well versus Mercer, losing 48-38.

Now, the defense has been a complete horror show away from Lexington (allowing 66, 59, 52, and 73 points, the latter coming last week against Devlin Hodges and Samford). However, this year’s edition of the Military Classic of the South is at Foster Stadium, so perhaps those results aren’t as important or revealing.

Do I think an aerial attack can work long-term at a military school? Not really. Am I going to be critical of VMI for trying it, given the way the last three decades on the gridiron have gone for the Keydets? Absolutely not.

Hey, you never know. It might work. Something has to work eventually, right?

Before I highlight a few of VMI’s key performers, I want to mention something that is actually listed below in the “odds and ends” section, as one of the regular features of that part of the weekly post.

VMI has 86 players on its roster. Of that group, 63 are from Virginia, which is 73% of the squad.

In terms of roster makeup, that is the largest instate cohort in the league, and only Mercer (69%) is even close to having a similar percentage of players from its “home” state. However, MU is in Georgia, and can pick and choose from a large number of talented high school players. Bobby Lamb recruits heavily from Georgia by choice.

Meanwhile, VMI’s emphasis on Virginia players is apparently due more to an administrative policy. If so, having roster construction limited in that fashion has to be rather difficult on the coaching staff.

Reece Udinski (6’4″, 224 lbs.) is the pilot of VMI’s “Air Raid” attack. The sophomore from North Wales, Pennsylvania has completed 55.6% of his passes, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, with 11 TDs against 10 interceptions.

In the Keydets’ 52-50 loss at Western Carolina, Udinski was 43 for 72 for 491 passing yards, all school records. He also threw four touchdown passes in that contest. The following week, Udinski threw for 434 yards against Mercer. Two weeks, 925 passing yards. Not bad.

Quan Myers (5’10”, 200 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Altavista, Virginia, leads VMI in rushing attempts (80) and yards (228). While averaging only 2.8 yards per carry, he does have seven rushing TDs. He is also the Keydets’ third-leading receiver.

Seventeen different Keydets have caught passes this season. The two leading receivers are redshirt sophomore Kris Thornton (5’8″, 164 lbs.), who has 45 catches, and junior Javeon Lara (6’2″, 188 lbs.), who has 37 receptions. Lara is averaging over 15 yards per catch and has 5 TDs. Thornton had six receptions versus The Citadel in last season’s meeting.

If you’re a fan of offensive skill position players wearing single-digit numerals, VMI is the team for you. Udinski wears #2; Myers, #3; Thornton, #1; and Lara, #7.

Wideout Rohan Martin (5’10”, 181 lbs.), who is also VMI’s primary punt returner, wears #5, and jack-of-all-trades Jake Paladino (a backup QB, punter, tight end, and the Keydets’ holder on placekicks) sports jersey #4.

When The Citadel last appeared at Foster Stadium, in 2016, Paladino entered the game in relief at quarterback and played quite well (completing 9 of 13 passes, including one for a TD).

Average size of VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’4″, 294 lbs. Manning the left tackle spot is Marshall Gill (6’4″, 270 lbs.), a “true” freshman from West Point, Virginia. Gill has started every game for the Keydets at that position.

Gill is the youngest of a very young unit. The other starters include three redshirt sophomores and a “true” sophomore.

Strong safety A.J. Smith (6’2″, 204 lbs.) is the Keydets’ leading tackler, with 46 stops. The sophomore from Virginia Beach also has two pass breakups.

Inside linebacker Elliott Brewster (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has 45 tackles this year for VMI. Last week against Samford, Brewster had 11 tackles and an interception, which is about as good an afternoon a linebacker can have for a team that gave up 73 points.

In his bio on VMI’s website, it is stated that Uzoma Kpaduwa “will likely be a defensive back for his senior season”, understandable given his size (5’10”, 190 lbs.). However, Kpaduwa has started five games at outside linebacker for the Keydets. He is tied for third on the team in tackles.

Free safety Ethan Caselberry (6’4″, 201 lbs.), a freshman from Sparkman, Alabama, had 10 tackles versus Samford. He is tied with Kpaduwa in tackles for the season (42).

Redshirt senior Zach Baker (6’2″, 263 lbs.), a defensive end from Roanoke, leads VMI in tackles for loss, with five. Collin Loftis (5’10”, 170 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas, has three interceptions this season, tops among the Keydets.

VMI has used two placekickers this season. One of them, junior Reed King (5’9″, 168 lbs.), is also the Keydets’ punter.

Grant Clemons (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is the current incumbent at the PK spot. The junior, who began his college career at Georgia Military, has made both of his field goal tries so far this season (including a 40-yarder against Samford).

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service:  a chance of showers, mainly before 8:00 am. It will be partly sunny, with a high of 64 degrees. Winds will be out of the west at 6-14 miles per hour.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6-point favorite over VMI (as of Thursday night), with an over/under of 71 1/2. That is easily the largest over/under for any game played by the Bulldogs this season.

After the over hit in The Citadel’s first four games this season, last week’s total wound up as a push.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is a 3-point favorite over ETSU; Samford is a 7 1/2 point favorite at Furman; and Mercer is a 10 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina. Those lines are all as of Thursday night.

Chattanooga is off this week.

– Also of note:  Alabama is a 28 1/2 point favorite at Tennessee; Charleston Southern is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Presbyterian; and Towson is a 17-point favorite at Albany.

That CSU-PC number has really moved. On Tuesday afternoon, the Buccaneers were a 13 1/2 point favorite over the Blue Hose.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 61st in FCS, while VMI is ranked 111th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 83% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 41, VMI 28.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (9th), Elon (11th), Colgate (14th), Kennesaw State (19th), Yale (28th), Wofford (30th), Furman (35th), Chattanooga (37th), East Tennessee State (39th), North Carolina A&T (42nd), Samford (44th), Mercer (46th), Western Carolina (74th), Charleston Southern (80th), South Carolina State (97th), Presbyterian (113th), Gardner-Webb (116th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

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

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, and Iowa. Texas is 12th, UCF 13th, North Carolina State 15th, Duke 19th, West Virginia 20th, Mississippi State 24th, South Carolina 30th, Auburn 32nd, Appalachian State 34th, Missouri 35th, Army 40th, Maryland 46th, Virginia Tech 47th, Wake Forest 55th, Tennessee 56th, Virginia 57th, Florida State 63rd, Georgia Tech 64th, North Texas 71st, Toledo 81st, Air Force 84th, Georgia Southern 91st, Navy 96th, North Carolina 97th, Arkansas 104th, Liberty 105th, Coastal Carolina 110th, Old Dominion 119th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among VMI’s notable alumni:  rugby star Dan Lyle, movie producer Frank McCarthy, and civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels.

– VMI’s roster includes 63 players from Virginia. Other states represented on its squad:  Alabama (5 players), Maryland (3), Pennsylvania (2), North Carolina (2), Georgia (2), Tennessee (2), New York (2), Texas (2), and one each from California, New Jersey, and South Carolina (freshman defensive back Tim Smith is from Rock Hill and went to Nation Ford High School).

Thus, none of the Keydets are graduates of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, the internationally celebrated bastion of gridiron excellence located in the Palmetto State. The continued failure to draw talent from the unquestioned epicenter of elite pigskin performance goes a long way to explaining VMI’s struggles in the sport.

– 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 ETSU game. There are a few changes, however. Kyler Estes appears on the depth chart at the “KAT” position. Also, Sean-Thomas Faulkner is now officially listed as the starter in the “Bandit” role.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-5 for games played on October 20. The Bulldogs are 3-4 away from home on that date, and 3-3 in SoCon play. A brief review of four of the victories, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1917:  The Citadel defeated Erskine, 18-7, in a game played at Hampton Park in Charleston. The Bulldogs opened the game by successfully recovering an onside kick, an aggressive ploy that set the tone for the contest. Three of The Citadel’s players accounted for all the home team’s scoring. “Wild John” Crouch caught two TD passes, one from Billy Dotterer and another from Archie Reynolds. The third touchdown for the Bulldogs came on a throw from Reynolds to Dotterer.
  • 1979:  In Lexington, Virginia, The Citadel walloped VMI 37-6. Stump Mitchell rushed for 188 yards and a touchdown. Other Bulldogs to dent the end zone that day: Tim Russell, Wilford Austin, Mark Hunt, and Jeff Turner. Emmer Chavez added a field goal. The defense, keyed by the likes of Scott Wages and Paul Gillis, held the Keydets to 194 total yards.
  • 1990:  The Citadel 38, South Carolina 35. You know all about this one. According to The State newspaper, all the Gamecocks had to do to win was “just show up”, arguably the laziest analysis in the history of sports journalism. I just wish I had a tape of Bob Fulton and Tommy Suggs calling the game on the radio.
  • 2007:  A high-scoring game in Cullowhee against Western Carolina resulted in a 37-31 win for the Bulldogs. Andre Roberts had 9 catches for 119 yards and a TD, while Tory Cooper added two rushing touchdowns. Mike Adams kicked three field goals for the Cadets, as The Citadel built a 17-point lead before hanging on for the victory.

– Incidentally, the 188 yards rushing by Stump Mitchell against VMI in 1979 that I referenced above was Mitchell’s career high in a game during his time at The Citadel. The following year (1980), Mitchell rushed for 173 yards versus the Keydets, including a 75-yard TD scamper that is the greatest run I’ve ever seen in person at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Mitchell also had 157 yards rushing against VMI as a sophomore. In four games against the Keydets, The Citadel’s career rushing leader averaged 8.6 yards per carry.

The Citadel is busing most of the freshmen in the Corps of Cadets to the game. I’m very pleased about that, as I was when the freshmen made an appearance at Wofford.

I’ve said this more than once, but if you are a graduate of The Citadel, a trip to VMI is almost a must. Every alum should make the journey to “the Post” at least once, if only to watch a parade and check out the gameday experience.

I won’t be able to make it this year, which is my loss. I’ll be intently watching the game on TV, though.

I have concerns about this game from The Citadel’s perspective. VMI always brings its best to this matchup. While the Keydets don’t have any wins this season, they can remain confident in the fact they do some things well, and have been competitive in three of their five SoCon games.

The Bulldogs have been just good enough to lose four of five league contests. Sometimes, that becomes an unwanted pattern. The Citadel has to come out aggressively and put its stamp on the game; otherwise, it could be a long and difficult afternoon.

This game is important. This game matters.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, the greatest trophy in all of sports. The Bulldogs must do everything in their power to retain it, and keep it in Charleston, where it rightfully belongs.

Coda: the pictures from the ETSU game. They aren’t the most stellar of photos, which is the norm.

I will say that I like the blue and white smoke as the team runs on to the field, and it shows up fairly well in the pictures.