2013 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 3:30 pm pm ET on Saturday, September 14. The game can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, is the flagship station for the network; audio of the game is also available at Bulldog Insider.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Western Carolina game notes

SoCon weekly release

SoCon media teleconference: The Citadel head coach Kevin Higgins

SoCon media teleconference: Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir

The Kevin Higgins Show

Kevin Higgins says the Bulldogs are going back to basics on offense

The Post and Courier “Scouting Report”

Profile of Derek Douglas on the “Off the Collar” blog

Donnell Boucher works with the first battalion non-corps squad freshmen

I don’t have a lot to add about the Wofford game that hasn’t already been said or written. Just a few observations…

– Third down conversions: Wofford 9 for 18, The Citadel 3 for 15. That summed up the game about as well as anything else.

– Carl Robinson had an outstanding game, including 16 tackles. Robinson has 30 tackles through two games, which leads the SoCon.

– Brandon McCladdie led the Bulldogs in all-purpose yards. When a defensive back who doesn’t return kicks leads the team in all-purpose yards, it’s generally not a good thing.

– I thought the defense played fairly well with the exception of allowing some big pass plays. Of course, not allowing big pass plays is a key component in good defense.

– Preseason fears about punting have largely been alleviated, thanks to the solid work by Eric Goins over two games.

Kevin Higgins, during his Monday press conference:

It’s apparent that our execution is not where it needs to be. We’re going to simplify as much as we can, maybe get back to the basics more like we did last year.

We want to make sure we are majoring in a couple of things, and do those things real well to give us a chance to be successful.

As Jeff Hartsell pointed out later, “the ‘back to basics’ theme is never a good sign.” Which is true…most of the time. I remember a notable exception.

Prior to The Citadel’s 1991 season, Charlie Taaffe decided to switch from his successful wishbone offense to the veer. Why?

The reason we’re diversifying our offense is simply because most of the teams in the Southern Conference have seen the wishbone so much now they’re getting better at defensing it. We’ve got to do some different things or they’ll be all over us. Plus, it’ll  give us a chance to throw the ball more and be more exciting to watch.

Taaffe added to this as the season drew closer:

I feel like we’ve taken our program to a level [note: this was Taaffe’s fifth season at The Citadel]. To get to the next level, we have to be more dimensional. We ran the ball 86% of the time last year. We need more balance in our offense. We need to force defenses to defend more things.

The Citadel started the 1991 season 1-1, not playing particularly well in its opener against Presbyterian and then losing to Wofford. At that point, Taaffe did something that must have been very hard for him to do.

He junked the veer and went back to the wishbone.

That decision saved the season. After losing 33-26 to Chattanooga in a game in which the offense came to life, The Citadel won four of its next five games, and six of its last eight. The victories included wins over Army (a first on the gridiron for the Bulldogs) and Furman (breaking a nine-game slide in that series).

The quotes from this article, which followed The Citadel’s 38-13 victory over Western Carolina that season, are illuminating. The offensive switch-back even had a positive impact on the defense.

In winning their final three games last year, the Bulldogs averaged almost 36 points per contest. If “back to basics” means a return to that type of offensive productivity, then it’s the right thing to do.

Western Carolina is playing what is, in my opinion, Division I’s most absurd schedule in 2013. The Catamounts have already played FBS foes Middle Tennessee State and Virginia Tech; later in the season, WCU travels to Auburn. That’s three FBS opponents to go along with two FBS-transitional teams (Georgia Southern and Appalachian State). Western Carolina will be the road team in all five contests.

This is a program that has lost 12 straight games overall, and 22 straight in the SoCon. Western Carolina’s victory over The Citadel on September 3, 2010, was its last win over a D-1 team.

I know it’s a cash grab, but it’s really unfair to the players and coaches in that situation to have to play three FBS opponents. It can’t be easy for second-year coach Mark Speir.

Having said that, if WCU is going to climb out of its gridiron hole, Speir strikes me as the man to lead the way. I think he was a very good hire (and I’m far from alone in that assessment). This season’s schedule may set him back a year, though. We’ll see.

It is hard to get any kind of read on this year’s edition of the Catamounts, since they’ve only played FBS competition thus far. Actually, going back to last season (when WCU finished with a bye and Alabama, respectively), Western Carolina hasn’t played an FCS school since November 3, 2012.

That was a game against Chattanooga, and the Catamounts led the Mocs after three quarters. The week before the UTC contest, Western Carolina gave Appalachian State a good game (losing 38-27).

The Catamounts also led The Citadel in the third quarter at Johnson Hagood Stadium last season, and were tied with the Bulldogs entering the fourth quarter before The Citadel pulled away. That matchup, you may recall, featured a game-turning special-teams play by Vinny Miller.

One of the stars for Western Carolina in that game at JHS was quarterback Troy Mitchell, who rushed for 117 yards and two TDs in the loss. Mitchell did not play in the Catamounts’ game at Virginia Tech, but is expected to start against The Citadel.

Also missing against the Hokies was running back Darius Ramsey, who has not played yet this season for WCU. Ramsey rushed for 118 yards against The Citadel in last year’s game.

Garry Lewis, a freshman, is listed as the starting running back in WCU’s one-back set. The Catamounts may start the game against the Bulldogs with four wideouts.

Western Carolina has some experience along the offensive line, but is also starting a true freshman at right guard, Tanner Poindexter. The caption besides Poindexter’s name on the two-deep in the WCU game notes reads as follows:

Played center in 2012 Shrine Bowl after all-conference at guard … Sports a very interesting hair style – “a mullet”

As usual, the Catamounts’ media relations deparment provide all the necessary information about its team.

Western Carolina has a new defensive coordinator, one who should be very familiar with the Bulldogs’ triple option attack. Last year, Shawn Quinn was the defensive coordinator at Charleston Southern; prior to that, he was at Georgia Southern.

WCU would normally be a 4-3 base D, but that is likely to be adjusted against the Bulldogs.

Quinn will not have the services of Rock Williams this year, much to the relief of Ben Dupree and company. In last year’s game, Williams had 24 tackles, the highest total recorded in the league by a player all season.

As for this year’s players, Bryson Jordan is a freshman who will start at outside linebacker for WCU. He is the son of former Brave (and Falcon) Brian Jordan.

Another freshman, Trey Morgan, is one of the Catamounts’ starting cornerbacks and is highly regarded. He was praised by ESPN3 analyst (and former UNC coach) John Bunting as “a real steal” during the game against Virginia Tech. WCU’s defensive backfield is a team strength, one that also includes preseason second-team SoCon pick Ace Clark.

Western Carolina likes to play a lot of d-linemen, generally a good strategy. There are some interesting backgrounds among the players along the line, including backup nosetackle Helva Matungulu, a native of Kenya who had never played football before arriving in Cullowhee. He is a converted rugby player.

The Catamounts return both their placekicker and punter from last year.

Western Carolina starts four “true” freshmen on its two-deep and played 20 freshmen (including seven true freshmen) in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State. This is a young team.

I don’t know what to expect from the Bulldogs on Saturday. It’s put up or shut up time, I suppose.

One thing that worries me is this has become a big game for Western Carolina. After The Citadel, WCU plays Mars Hill, and then starts a three-game road swing: Samford, Chattanooga, and Auburn. In other words, the Catamounts could really use a win against the Bulldogs, and probably have increased confidence that they have an opportunity, given The Citadel’s struggles.

Oddsmakers list The Citadel as a four-point favorite, a small spread considering WCU’s difficulties in recent years against Division I competition. It is understandable, however, when taking into account what The Citadel has done so far this season.

I am not worried about what Las Vegas thinks, though. My concern is with the mindset of the team. I hope there are still good vibes emanating from those wearing the blue and white.

To bring home a victory from Cullowhee, positive thoughts are a necessity. So are hard hits and tough runs.

I think there is still some bite to these Bulldogs. Saturday is the time to show it.

Game Review, 2012: Western Carolina

The Citadel 45, Western Carolina 31.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Notes, The Post and Courier

Story (with video), WCSC-TV

Kevin Higgins’ postgame presser (video), with Brandon McCladdie and Darien Robinson

Box score


At the end of this post are some photos I took before and during the game. I’m including quite a few shots of the corps marching on to the field, more than usual.

As for the game shots, I tried to take more “action” shots this time, to go along with my standard pre-snap photos. As I’ve said many times, I’m not a good photographer, and my camera is just as limited as I am. Thus, the pictures can be hit-or-miss, with a lot more misses than hits.

Now for some random observations from the game, in no particular order.

The key play of the game, without any question, came with a little over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter:

Austin Jordan kickoff 54 yards to the WCU11, Shaun Warren return 8 yards to the WCU19 (Vinny Miller).

That is how the play was described in the box score play-by-play account. To say the description does not do Vinny Miller justice is a massive understatement.

Miller did not merely tackle the kick returner. HE BLEW HIM UP. There are balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade that aren’t blown up as much. The only reason the WCU player did not fumble the football is because the ball was basically pressed to his body in the same way a suction cup can be attached to a flat surface. Such was the force of the hit.

At the time, the game was tied at 24, and the crowd was, shall we say, apprehensive. After Miller’s hit, the atmosphere in the stadium markedly changed. The fans got wound up, and so did the defense, which to that point in the game had not forced a Western Carolina punt.

The sequence following Miller’s tackle went like this: defense forces three-and-out (including a sack by Cam Mobley, the Bulldogs’ first of the game), offense gets great field position, offense scores in four plays (helped by a 15-yard Catamount penalty), defense forces another three-and-out, offense drives 84 yards in 11 plays and scores to give The Citadel a two-touchdown lead.

The tackle was a huge, momentum-swinging event. I am not one who puts much stock in big hits meaning a whole lot over the course of a game, but this was an exception. I don’t think anyone who was at the game would disagree with me (and Kevin Higgins referenced it during his postgame interview with the press).

Listed above in the links section is WCSC’s video story for the game. The play leading to Miller’s tackle starts at around the 1:10 mark. To be honest, I’m not sure the video gives viewers a true understanding of the hit’s magnitude. I guess you had to be there. I am glad that I was.

For the most part, the offensive play calling was excellent for The Citadel against Western Carolina. However, I have to take issue with one particular call. I don’t criticize play calling too much, because I know full well I’m no expert, but in this case I feel compelled to point out what I think was a mistake.

I’m now going to criticize a play call by the Bulldogs that resulted in a touchdown for The Citadel…

The situation was this: fourth quarter, The Citadel clinging to a 38-31 lead. Western Carolina had just scored and attempted an onside kick, only for it to be collected by Domonic Jones. With 4:39 remaining, the Bulldogs began the drive on the WCU 46.

The Citadel picked up two first downs. Then, with less than two minutes to play, the Bulldogs faced third-and-four on the WCU 19. Ben Dupree rushed for six yards and a first down at the WCU 13. With just one timeout remaining and less than ninety seconds left in regulation, it was over for Western Carolina. The Citadel could go into “victory formation” and run out the clock.

Instead, the Bulldogs ran another play, a toss to Van Dyke Jones, who ran 13 yards for a touchdown.


If you take a knee (or two), the game is over. Why risk another play and a potential turnover — especially a pitch? I didn’t understand that at all.

Even the result (a touchdown) doesn’t end the argument, because The Citadel gave the ball back to Western Carolina with 1:16 to play. WCU was down by two scores, but at least had the ball and a chance (however remote) for a miracle. If the Bulldogs had taken a knee, the Catamounts wouldn’t have had that opportunity.

What if Western Carolina had run the kickoff back for a TD, then recovered an onside kick? The Catamounts would have had about a minute (and a timeout) to tie the game. Sure, it would have been a longshot, but if you’re WCU that is better than no shot.

Another issue is that The Citadel’s defense had to go back onto the field. It wound up being for only five plays, but those are five plays the defense really did not need. Admittedly, one of them resulted in an emphatic sack by Chris Billingslea, the video of which he can use as an audition tape for the WWE.

I just think when you have a chance to run out the clock and end the game, you should do so.

I was really glad to see the Bulldogs wearing light blue jerseys and white pants on Saturday. I wouldn’t mind seeing the same combination for Homecoming. It’s a good look. It’s also the right look.

Full credit must be given to Western Carolina’s Rock Williams, an indefatigable tackler. He had 24 stops (17 solo) against The Citadel. Williams also stole the ball from Ben Dupree when the Bulldogs were driving for an apparent score, which was just a ridiculous play by the Catamount linebacker. WCU needs a few more guys like Williams in its lineup.

After the game, I was happy the Bulldogs won, but more relieved than anything. Losing to Western Carolina in that situation would have had a lot of negative consequences.

I don’t know if the team would have completely lost confidence if it had lost the game, but I think a significant percentage of the fan base would have. It was only a few weeks ago that The Citadel was riding high at 3-0, but if the Bulldogs had followed up less-than-competitive losses to Chattanooga and Samford with a home loss to a woeful Western Carolina squad on Parents’ Day — well, the knives might have come out.

By winning, the Bulldogs avoided losing three games in four seasons to WCU, a program that has now lost 48 of its last 51 SoCon contests. The Citadel also snapped a five-game losing skid in “celebration games” (Parents’ Day and Homecoming), a streak which certainly wasn’t helping longterm attendance issues.

All in all, the second half was (in my opinion) pivotal for the tenure of Kevin Higgins. I’m glad the Bulldogs overcame serious defensive issues and made enough plays to get the victory.

The bye week comes at a good time. The Citadel has two weeks to figure things out on defense; the Bulldogs definitely need that time. Injured players will have a chance to heal, and the team can mentally prepare for the four-game finish.

Before the season started, I thought a winning season would be considered a successful year. The Citadel is 4-3, not exactly in the way its fans may have envisioned it being 4-3, but regardless the Bulldogs are still in a decent position to accomplish that goal. It won’t be easy, but it can (and should) be done.

It’s time to take a breath before the stretch run.