2016 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on October 15. The game be televised on multiple Fox regional sports networks, including Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Midwest+, Fox Sports North+, and Fox Sports San Diego. Kevin Fitzgerald will provide play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre supplies the analysis. 

The game will also be streamed on ESPN3.com and Fox Sports Go.

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. 

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:

Parents’ Weekend information

– Game notes for The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson 10/11 press conference, including comments from Tevin Floyd and Cam Jackson (video)

Brent Thompson’s 10/12 radio show (video)

Brent Thompson interviewed by Phil Korblut of SportsTalk (audio)

Russ Huesman’s 10/11 press conference (video)

UTC 10/11 press conference featuring players Taylor Reynolds and Alejandro Bennifield (video)

Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

The Citadel has four road wins, most in Division I

With the hurricane behind them, Bulldogs ready to play Chattanooga

Chattanooga eager to play The Citadel

The stress from the upcoming game gives Mocs coach Russ Huesman a sore neck

Mocs running back Derrick Craine is having a very good season (again)

Chattanooga practicing in full pads to prepare for The Citadel

Ultimately, it’s just another conference game

Hey, a little news about Bulldog Hoops!

Updated options for North Greenville tickets

Ryan Bednar has come a long way

Radio open for the game on The Citadel Sports Network

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

Additional link of interest that isn’t necessarily sports-related (although there is a little football talk):

A conversation with John Rosa

I linked the ticket options update above, but let’s take a closer look:

Fans who have tickets for last week’s rescheduled football game against North Greenville can use them for this week’s top-10 matchup against Chattanooga.

“Because The Citadel’s Parents Weekend has been rescheduled to this weekend, we felt we needed to offer fans who purchased tickets because of Parents Weekend the opportunity to still use those as originally intended,” Athletic Director Jim Senter said. “We understand many plans were changed due to the hurricane, and we want to allow those who planned to attend our football game as part of their Parents Weekend activities to still be able to do that.”

Anyone with a ticket to the North Greenville game that was not used last Thursday night at North Greenville can exchange that ticket for admission to Saturday’s home game against Chattanooga. Exchanges are required because if a ticket has already been sold in that seat for this week’s game, the North Greenville ticket holders will be reseated to the best available location. Every effort will be made to keep seat locations as close to the original location as possible.

Fans unable to attend this week’s game will have their ticket honored with an additional ticket in general admission seating at The Citadel’s home game against ETSU on Oct. 29 or can donate their ticket to the Junior Bulldog program, which benefits orphanages and foster families in the Lowcountry.

I think it may be difficult for some people who had tickets to the North Greenville game to be in attendance for the Chattanooga contest. Presumably a significant amount of tickets were purchased by families as part of the Parents’ Weekend festivities. Some of them will return, but a week’s notice is going to be tough for more than a few folks, especially those who hail from outside the southeastern United States.

I’m not sure how that will affect this week’s turnout, or general ticket availability. How much reseating will be necessary?

Earlier this week, my initial reaction to the talk about this being a sellout, or a near-sellout, was just that: it was only talk.

Chattanooga isn’t going to bring a lot of people (the Mocs rarely do; it’s a long trip, after all). No one should be expecting as many Parents’ Day attendees on short notice as there would have been for the North Greenville game. I didn’t see how attendance would make a big jump.

Now, though, I get the impression that Johnson Hagood Stadium will be close to a packed house, especially with any kind of decent walk-up crowd (and the weather on Saturday will apparently be cooperating on that front). The scene should look great on TV, too.

I know The Citadel’s players are more than ready to finally play another home game. It appears the same may be true of the Bulldogs’ fan base, as well. Eight of the last nine games played by The Citadel have been on the road; I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

I will say this, though. If someone plans on exchanging a ticket from the North Greenville game for a Chattanooga ducat, getting to the stadium early should be a priority. I would imagine there may quite a line to exchange those tickets.

When it was suggested to Cam Jackson by a member of the press that the game against Chattanooga was “different from another conference game”, Jackson politely responded that in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t.

No sir, every conference game is just as important as the next.

I don’t think Jackson anticipated having to explain basic mathematics to a reporter at the Tuesday press conference. His comment was later referred to by the same scribe as a “dreaded cliché”.

That was a remarkably poor description. Jackson’s statement wasn’t a cliché; it was the simple truth, one undoubtedly drilled into the Bulldogs by the coaching staff, but the truth nonetheless. (Incidentally, Mocs quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said almost the exact same thing at UTC’s presser.)

The Citadel’s season won’t end on Saturday. There are still five regular-season games remaining (four in SoCon play) after the Bulldogs play Chattanooga.

A win or loss won’t define the 2016 campaign. It’s just one link in a chain. It’s not to be completely discounted, of course. However, the world won’t end if the Bulldogs lose, and Johnson Hagood Stadium won’t turn into Big Rock Candy Mountain if they win.

I can even provide a relevant example to prove this.

The first time Johnson Hagood Stadium hosted a matchup of Top 10 teams came in 1992. On October 17 of that year, The Citadel played Marshall before a record crowd. Both teams were undefeated in SoCon action entering the contest.

Marshall won the game, so naturally the Southern Conference title that year was won by…uh…uh…uh…

The Citadel.

Sometimes people forget that. They shouldn’t.

As is traditional, nomenclature must be established when discussing Chattanooga. I’ve written before (more than once, to be sure) about the school’s identity/branding issues.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to the one question that has bedeviled the school for many years: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill…

Named after legendary football coach A.C. “Scrappy” Moore, Scrappy, the Chattanooga mascot, is a fixture for the Mocs.  A re-design in 2008 puts Scrappy in the image of the State Bird of Tennessee, a Mockingbird.  The mockingbird is known as a fierce protector of its nest and environment. It is sometimes seen swooping down on a dog, cat or predator that may be venturing too close to the bird’s protected territory.   Once described by “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon as “a sledge-hammer wielding mockingbird with a heart of Blue & Gold,” Scrappy symbolizes that competitive passion.

Faced with politically sensitive issues and in need of a stronger core identity to help establish a strong brand as Chattanooga’s Team, the athletics department embarked on a comprehensive identity program in 1996. A new direction for the athletics identity was determined, moving away from the politically incorrect Native American Indian imagery.

The “Power C” and the “Cowcatcher logo” are also phrases that apply to branding at Chattanooga. It’s a subject that has even come to the attention of The New York Times.

In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

The most memorable game played between Chattanooga and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium was probably the 1988 contest, won by the Bulldogs 23-17. As the clock wound down, UTC had a first-and-goal from the three-yard line, with a chance to win the game with a TD and subsequent PAT. However, a big defensive stand by the Bulldogs (featuring key plays by Rob Brodsky, Matt Larkin, and Terrance Young) preserved the victory.

The Citadel had won two consecutive games before that matchup with UTC; it would eventually win seven straight games that season and make the I-AA playoffs for the first time.

How far has Chattanooga come under Russ Huesman? I wrote this in 2008:

You know it’s been a bad season [for Chattanooga] when the beat writer for the local paper notes that “punter Jeff Lloyd, who lost his starting job for three games, may be the Mocs’ most productive player.”

Later in the column he writes that Lloyd has been effective “when he has been able to get a punt off.”

UTC’s struggles have presented an opportunity for assorted anti-football advocates to step forward and call for the program’s elimination. The loudest of these voices is a computer science professor at UTC named Joe Dumas.  From the link:

“This is a perfect time for UTC to get out of the football business for good and concentrate on academics while maintaining successful athletic programs like basketball, golf, tennis, etc.”

Eight years later, Chattanooga has won outright or shared the last three SoCon titles. This season, the Mocs are 6-0 and ranked third in the nation in the FCS Coaches’ poll.

UTC began its 2016 campaign by annihilating Division II Shorter University, 66-0. The following week, the Mocs beat Presbyterian 34-0.

Two games, a combined score of 100-0. Nice start.

Chattanooga has since played four Southern Conference games, winning all four. Only the first of those, a 21-14 win at Furman, was close (though even in that game, UTC led 21-0 before the Paladins made a belated fourth-quarter charge).

A very good Samford team was pushed aside 44-21, with UTC storming out to another 21-0 lead and never looking back. East Tennessee State was then mauled, 37-7 (one of two road games the Mocs have played so far this season).

Last week, Chattanooga led Mercer 38-3 at halftime and 52-10 in the third quarter before settling for a 52-31 victory. That would be the same Mercer team The Citadel beat by one point in the season opener.

UTC has yet to trail in a game this season, outscoring its opponents 148-10 in the first half.

Many of Chattanooga’s relevant statistics are eye-popping.

UTC Opp
Points Per Game 41.8 12.2
Pts Off Turnovers 59 7
Rushing yardage 1384 430
Rushing Attempts 270 185
Yds/rush 5.1 2.3
TDs Rushing 18 6
Passing yardage 1287 936
Comp-Att-Int 93-139-4 97-170-5
Average Per Pass 9.3 5.5
TDs Passing 15 4
Total Off. Plays 409 355
Average yds/play 6.5 3.8
Average yds/game 445.2 227.7
Fumbles/lost 8/2 12/6
Penalties-yards 37-358 33-331
Average/game 59.7 55.2
TOP/game 34:09:00 25:51:00
3rd-down conv. 27/74 18/82
3rd-down conv. rate 36% 22%
Sacks by-yards 16-122 5-43
Red Zone TD rate (21-28) 75% (8-10) 80%

Among other things:

  • The Mocs lead the nation in scoring defense, total defense, yards allowed per play, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • UTC is third in the nation in rushing defense, and fourth in the country in yards allowed per rush
  • The Mocs are sixth nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt
  • Chattanooga has only been sacked five times, while throwing 139 passes. Meanwhile, its opponents have been sacked 16 times while throwing 170 passes.
  • UTC has a pass completion rate of 67% and is seventh nationally in offensive pass efficiency
  • Chattanooga is also seventh nationally in scoring offense
  • UTC is tenth nationally in time of possession per game (Wofford leads the nation in that category; The Citadel is second)

Now, to be fair, The Citadel has some nice statistics of its own:

  • The Bulldogs are 12th nationally in offensive third-down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is tied for 6th in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, and 12th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs lead the nation in rushing offense, and are 6th in the country in yards per rush
  • The Citadel has not allowed a sack all season, the only FCS team that can make that claim
  • The Bulldogs are one of two FCS teams not to allow a successful fourth down conversion so far this season (Sacred Heart is the other). Admittedly, The Citadel’s opponents have only gone for it on 4th down on three occasions.

“We won’t be able to trick ’em.”

– Russ Huesman, describing his offense versus The Citadel’s defense at his press conference on Tuesday.

Of course, this is the same coach who called a trick play for a TD on the first play from scrimmage in last year’s game…

When Russ Huesman’s son, Jacob, finally exhausted his eligibility, there was some question as to whether or not UTC would regress offensively in 2016 with a new starting quarterback. The answer: nope.

That’s partly because the Mocs brought back most of their other offensive starters, but mainly because Alejandro Bennifield (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has seamlessly stepped in as UTC’s signal-caller.

Bennifield (who was involved in the aforementioned trick play) is completing 66.7% of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, with fifteen TD tosses against only four interceptions. The junior from Lovejoy, Georgia, is fourth nationally in offensive pass efficiency.

Derrick Craine (5’10”, 205 lbs.) is a senior running back who was a first-team All-SoCon pick last season after rushing for 1,251 yards. His first career 100-yard performance as a Moc came the last time UTC played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, as he had 135 yards in the 2014 matchup.

UTC has at least four receivers who can make big plays. Xavier Borishade (5’10”, 180 lbs.) already has six touchdown receptions this season. The senior was the recipient of the TD toss from Bennifield on the first play of last year’s game against the Bulldogs.

Another wideout, C.J. Board (6’2″, 180 lbs.), is second on the team in receptions. Board has caught three TD passes in 2016. Last year versus The Citadel, Board had 116 receiving yards on five catches.

It should be noted that while the tight end position is not always a prominent feature of Chattanooga’s passing offense, two different Moc TEs caught touchdown passes last week against Mercer.

Chattanooga’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 298 lbs.

The line is led by left guard Corey Levin (6’5″, 305 lbs.), who has won the Jacobs Blocking Award the last two years in the Southern Conference. Jacob Revis (6’3″, 295 lbs.) is the Mocs’ starting center, and a preseason all-conference pick.

[Chattanooga is] expected to practice in full pads [Tuesday] and Thursday as they prepare for the Bulldogs’ rough, rugged triple-option attack.

“Most of the time we just go in shells,” coach Russ Huesman said. “You don’t see it much, but when you play option teams, you get low blocks — legal but low blocks — and we’ve got to practice against them at a great speed or we’ll be on the ground the whole game.

I thought this was an interesting approach to preparing for the triple option.

An even better approach for defending the triple option is to recruit players like Keionta Davis (6’4″, 270 lbs.), a defensive end/blunt instrument who was the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the SoCon. Davis is a Chattanooga native who led the league in sacks last season with 13 1/2 (including two against The Citadel). He already has five sacks in 2016 (and also blocked a field goal attempt against Furman).

Middle linebacker Nakevion Leslie (5’11”, 225 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon choice last year. He currently leads the Mocs in tackles. Leslie had 15 stops versus the Bulldogs in last year’s contest.

Fellow linebacker Dale Warren (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles. The junior leads the Mocs in tackles for loss, with eight.

UTC has a talented, experienced secondary. Junior free safety Lucas Webb (6’1″, 205 lbs.) has been a first-team all-league pick the last two seasons. Webb, like Davis and perhaps two other Moc defenders, is a legitimate NFL prospect.

Cedric Nettles (6’0″, 205 lbs.) has also been a first-team All-SoCon choice the last two years. The senior had six tackles against The Citadel last season.

Henrique Ribeiro (6’0″, 220 lbs.) is the only Southern Conference placekicker to have been profiled in USA Today this week. The native of Brazil was first-team all-conference last year. So far this season, Ribeirois 5 for 6 on field goal tries, with a long of 52 yards (interestingly, his only miss was blocked).

Ribeiro was Chattanooga’s starting punter last season as well, and has punted 16 times for the Mocs this season, but is listed as the backup at that position this week. Redshirt freshman Colin Brewer (6’3″, 205 lbs.), who has punted ten times this year, is the projected starter.

Brewer is also the holder for UTC. Emory Norred (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is a junior in his third year as the long snapper.

C.J. Board is Chattanooga’s main punt returner, and he is averaging a stellar 8.9 yards per return. Backup running back Richardre Bagley (5’9″, 180 lbs.) is the primary kick returner for the Mocs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. The low on Saturday night is projected to be 62 degrees. That works for me.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 6-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 49.5. That’s the same over/under that was listed for the Bulldogs’ game last week versus North Greenville.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Samford is an 18 1/2-point favorite over VMI; Mercer is a 4 1/2-point favorite against Western Carolina; and Furman (despite being winless) is a 16 1/2-point favorite at East Tennessee State. The Citadel’s next opponent, Wofford, is off this week.

Gardner-Webb is a 16 1/2-point underdog against Coastal Carolina this week in Boiling Springs. North Carolina is a 7-point underdog at Miami.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 9th in FCS. Chattanooga is ranked 4th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 39% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of UTC 28, The Citadel 24.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford (12th), Wofford (20th), Mercer (40th), Gardner-Webb (55th), VMI (58th), Furman (62nd), Western Carolina (63rd), East Tennessee State (90th).

Both Samford and Wofford jumped six spots this week. VMI improved by nine positions.

– Next year’s FCS Kickoff Classic will feature Chattanooga, as the Mocs will play Jacksonville State one week before the regular season begins for most of Division I.

This year, that game was between Charleston Southern and North Dakota State. One difference next season is that the contest will be played at a neutral site — Montgomery, Alabama.

– Chattanooga’s roster is largely made up of Tennessee natives, with 49 Mocs hailing from the Volunteer State. Other states represented on UTC’s roster: Georgia (29), Alabama (13), Florida (1), New York (1), and California (1).

– 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.

– There were no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep this week. The depth charts for the North Greenville and Chattanooga games are identical.

– On offense, eight Bulldogs have started each of the first five games. Nine players have started every game on defense for The Citadel.

Among active players, Tevin Floyd has the most career starts for The Citadel, with 31 (all consecutive). Offensive linemen Isaiah Pinson and Kyle Weaver have each made 30 straight starts.

After reviewing UTC’s season, it is apparent that The Citadel has a very difficult task on Saturday. The Mocs have no obvious weaknesses, and have mostly shredded their opponents (including whippings of quality teams like Samford and Mercer).

The one slight blip in Chattanooga’s march came at Furman, a contest worthy of further examination. It’s not as much that the game was nominally close (21-14), because the Paladins’ second touchdown didn’t come until 1:01 remained in the fourth quarter.

No, the real story was UTC only scoring 21 points (including just one score in the first half). How did Furman manage that?

The Paladins had a three-minute edge in time of possession. Furman also won the turnover battle 1-0.

Another key stat: Chattanooga was only 2 for 9 on third down conversion attempts, which led to the Mocs only running 53 plays from scrimmage (FU had 65).

Furman’s offense didn’t do much, but its defense kept the Paladins in the game, holding UTC to 288 yards of total offense.

Turnovers and big plays are always critical in deciding football games, and Saturday’s contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium will be no different.

However, based on that Furman game, I might suggest another category worth watching: third down conversions.

The simplest way to slow down UTC’s offense is to keep it off the field. That means the Bulldogs’ offense has to maintain long, time-consuming drives (and convert on third down), while The Citadel’s defense needs stops (especially on third down conversion attempts).

Oh, one other thing: the Bulldogs need to avoid giving up a TD on the first play from scrimmage. That has happened in both of the last two matchups against the Mocs.

Can the Bulldogs pull off the upset? I don’t know, but I’m ready to find out, and in person.

I think that will be true for a lot of people this Saturday.

2015 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Finley Stadium Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 14. The game will not be televised. The contest will be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network, with the feed using UTC announcers (Jim Reynolds, Todd Agnew, Will Poindexter).

The game 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. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

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

Links of interest:

Preview of The Citadel-Chattanooga from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/10 press conference (with comments from Dominique Allen , Eric Goins, and Quinlan Washington)

The Mike Houston Show (video from his radio show)

– UTC Media Conference (video)

Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

– Preview of The Citadel-Chattanooga from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– Story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press on UTC preparing for the triple option

Eric Goins is the SoCon student-athlete of the week; Goins has had a very good year

– Story on Quinlan Washington in The Post and Courier; Washington is the reigning SoCon defensive player of the week

– STATS article on the game (with some additional SoCon notes)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

There has been a lot of discussion in the media about how the Big XII has “backloaded” its schedule so that its best teams don’t meet until November. What hasn’t received nearly as much attention is the fact that the Southern Conference has done the same thing.

You have to give SoCon commissioner John Iamarino credit. He arranged the league schedule so that the top two teams would meet for the conference’s automatic bid at the end of their respective SoCon slates.

The Citadel already has clinched no worse than a share of the SoCon title, and is 6-0 in the league. This week, the goal is to win the conference outright, claim the league’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, and become the first team in school history to finish unbeaten in SoCon competition.

I think that angle (the chance to go undefeated in the conference) has actually been underplayed a bit. After all, there have only been three other seasons in which The Citadel lost just one game in Socon play (1959, 1961, and 1992).

Only once has The Citadel finished undefeated in conference action. The year was 1929, and the conference was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Carl Prause’s squad finished 4-0-1 in the SIAA, tying Furman (0-0) and beating Oglethorpe, Presbyterian, Mercer, and Wofford.

That 4-0-1 mark was not good enough to win the league in 1929, however. The SIAA champ that year, with a conference record of 7-0, was…Chattanooga.

As always, nomenclature has to be established when discussing Chattanooga. The paragraph that follows is a slightly reworked version of what I’ve written about before regarding the school’s branding issues.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to the one question that never fails to cause confusion: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill.

In the not-so-distant past, “Moc” was short for “Moccasin”, and referred to a snake, or a shoe, or an American Indian (two of them — Chief Chattamoc and, later, Chief Moccanooga). Now, it’s a bird named Scrappy.

Also in the mix, just to add to the fun: the “Power C” and the “Cowcatcher logo”.

In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for league contests only, unless otherwise indicated. Both Chattanooga and The Citadel have played six conference games, against the same opponents (naturally).

What is striking about the Mocs’ SoCon contests is how much more dominant they have been in their two home games. UTC beat Furman 31-3 and Western Carolina 41-13, both at Finley Stadium.

On the road, Chattanooga has victories over Samford (31-21), VMI (33-27), and Wofford (20-17). The Mocs lost last week at Mercer (17-14).

The Citadel has only played two of its six conference matchups on the road, but played very well in both of those contests, winning 44-25 at Samford and 38-17 at Furman. At Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Bulldogs have wins over Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), Mercer (21-19), and VMI (35-14).

In six league games, Chattanooga’s offense has thrown the ball 131 times, with six other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Mocs have rushed 284 times, so UTC has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on 32.5% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 38.5% of Chattanooga’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). UTC averages 7.1 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). For comparison, that is a full yard more per pass attempt than VMI.

In conference play, Chattanooga is fourth in scoring offense (28.3 ppg), third in total offense, and averages 6.0 yards per play, second-best in the league. On the other side of the ball, The Citadel is first in scoring defense (16.2 ppg), second in total defense, and first in yards per play allowed (4.5).

UTC is third in rushing offense and second in rushing yards per play (5.2). The Mocs are fourth in offensive pass efficiency, with three touchdowns against six interceptions.

The Citadel is first in rushing defense and rush yards allowed per play (3.2). The Bulldogs also lead the league in defensive pass efficiency, allowing five touchdown tosses but intercepting eleven passes in conference action.

Nationally, The Citadel is fourth in defensive pass efficiency, with 5 TDs allowed through the air more than counterbalanced by 17 interceptions (all games). Only Southern Utah (4 TDs/17 picks) has a better defensive TD/INT ratio.

The Mocs are third in the SoCon in offensive third-down conversion rate (45.1%). The Bulldogs lead the conference in defensive third-down conversion rate (30.6%).

The FCS leader in defensive pass efficiency and defensive third-down conversion rate, by the way, is South Carolina State.

UTC has gone for it on fourth down on eleven occasions in league play, picking up a first down seven times. On defense, The Citadel has given up eight conversions in thirteen opponent tries.

Chattanooga is second in the league in scoring defense (16.3 ppg, just behind The Citadel). UTC is first in total defense and second in yards per play allowed (4.7). No other league team is particularly close to the Bulldogs and Mocs in defensive yards allowed per play (both Wofford and Western Carolina allow 5.5 yards per play).

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (34.2 ppg), second in total offense, and first in yards per play (6.2).

Chattanooga is second in rushing defense and rush yards allowed per play (3.4). The Mocs are third in defensive pass efficiency, intercepting six passes in league play while allowing six TD throws.

As for The Citadel’s offense, it ranks first in rushing offense, averaging 5.6 yards per rush (also a league best). The Bulldogs lead the league in offensive pass efficiency, though they don’t throw it that often (the VMI game aside).

The Citadel remains second nationally in rushing offense, behind Cal Poly. The team that really stands out in this category, though, is Lamar, which is fifth in rushing yards per game but first in rush yards per play, with an amazing 7.0 yards per carry.

Despite that, the Cardinals are only 4-5, in part because of a leaky defense. Against Central Arkansas, Lamar averaged 9.2 yards per rush — and lost, 35-17.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference in offensive third-down conversion rate (48.2%). Western Carolina took over the league lead in this category after going 10-16 on third down tries against Furman last week.

UTC is third in the SoCon in defensive third-down conversion rate (40.0%).

The Citadel is 2 for 5 in fourth-down tries, while Chattanooga opponents are 6-10 in converting fourth-down attempts against the Mocs.

I put the red zone numbers this week into a separate section because the two teams’ statistics inside the 20-yard line are almost identical, both on offense and defense.

Chattanooga and The Citadel are both 22-27 overall converting red zone possessions into points. The Mocs have scored 15 touchdowns; the Bulldogs, 16.

Both defenses have allowed a 50% Red Zone TD rate. The Mocs have given up 7 TDs in 14 opponent Red Zone opportunities; the Bulldogs, 10 in 20.

The Citadel is +8 in turnover margin (gained 17, lost 9), second in the league. Mercer is +9 after winning the turnover battle against UTC last week 4-1.

Despite the tough day in Macon, the Mocs are +2 for the season in turnover margin, fourth-best in the conference. Chattanooga has gained ten turnovers while losing eight.

On FG attempts, the Bulldogs are 8-10 in the league (23-24 on PATs). Eric Goins was 5 for 5 in FG tries last week, and is now 10-12 overall for the season (long of 45), with no missed PATs.

Chattanooga is 10-11 kicking FGs in conference play (20-20 PATs). Henrique Ribeiro is 12-15 for the overall 2015 campaign (and like Goins, has a long for the year of 45). Ribeiro is 31-31 for the year on extra point attempts.

The Citadel ranks fifth in the conference in net punting yardage (35.0), while UTC is third (36.4). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are fourth in the league (with a conference-leading 16 touchbacks), while the Mocs are seventh (and a SoCon-low 4 touchbacks).

UTC is last in the SoCon in kickoff return average. The Citadel is first; as I pointed out last week, though, the Bulldogs have only returned seven kickoffs in league contests (for that matter, Chattanooga’s 13 returned kickoffs in league play is tied for second-fewest).

The Mocs top the conference in time of possession, averaging 33:44 per contest. The Citadel is fourth in that category (32:17).

Chattanooga is averaging 70.2 offensive plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.08 plays-per-minute rate. The Bulldogs are averaging 70.5 offensive plays per game, with a 2.18 plays-per-minute rate (a pace that has remained consistent over the past few games).

The Citadel and Chattanooga are the two most penalized teams in the conference. The Bulldogs have committed the most penalties, while the Mocs have been assessed the most penalty yardage.

UTC will likely catch a break on the penalty yardage front this week, however, as opponents of The Citadel have been docked fewer penalty yards than the opponents for any other school in conference play, an ongoing tradition.

Note: statistics in the following sections are for all games.

Chattanooga quarterback Jacob Huesman (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is completing 66.8% of his throws, averaging 7.33 yards per attempt, with seven TDs against eight interceptions. He throws on average just over 22 passes per game.

Last year against The Citadel, Huesman was 11-17 for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 66-yard TD throw to C.J. Board. The coach’s son also had a 15-yard TD run in that game, a reminder that Jacob Huesman is a fine runner (5.3 yards per carry, 8 rush TDs this season).

Running back Derrick Craine (5’10”, 205 lbs.) currently leads the SoCon in rushing yards per game. Craine, described by Mike Houston as the “hardest-running running back” the Bulldogs will have faced this season, rushed for 135 yards against The Citadel in last year’s matchup.

Chattanooga’s projected starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 297 lbs. The same five players have started all season, but four of them changed positions on the line two weeks ago. Only the center, Jacob Revis (6’3″, 295 lbs.) stayed at the same spot.

Left guard Corey Levin (6’5″, 305 lbs.) was the Jacobs Blocking Award winner in the Southern Conference last season. Right tackle Josh Cardiello (6’3″, 290 lbs.) is a transfer from Georgia.

UTC’s leading receivers are the aforementioned C.J. Board (6’2″, 180 lbs.) and Xavier Borishade (5’10”, 175 lbs.), who also had a big catch against The Citadel last season. Another starting wideout, James Stovall (6’3″, 205 lbs.), has started the last six games for the Mocs and has 21 receptions.

Defensive end Keionta Davis (6’4″, 260 lbs.) is a native of Chattanooga who leads the SoCon in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (11.5). He will be a handful for the Bulldogs.

Davis is joined on the d-line by preseason all-league selection Josh Freeman, a 6’0″, 285 lb. defensive tackle who has started 46 games during his career, more than any other current Chattanooga player.

A.J. Hampton (6’1″, 240 lbs.) is a linebacker who leads the Mocs in tackles, with 65. Fellow ‘backer Nakevion Leslie (5’11”, 220 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles, with 11.5 of those stops for loss. Leslie had ten tackles against The Citadel last year.

Safety Cedric Nettles (6’0″, 220 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon pick last year by the league’s coaches and a second-team selection by the media. The other starting safety, Lucas Webb (6’1, 195 lbs.), was Nettles’ mirror in the honors department, as he was a first-team all-league selection last year by the media and a second-team pick by the coaches.

Webb had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown against Furman earlier this season. Another starting Moc defensive back, Sema’je Kendall, also has a pick-6 this year, returning one 28 yards for a score versus VMI.

Dee Virgin (5’10”, 205 lbs.) in his third season as a starter at cornerback. He also returns kickoffs for the Mocs.

I’ve already mentioned Henrique Ribeiro, the preseason all-SoCon placekicker for Chattanooga. Ribeiro kicked a game-winning field goal to beat Wofford, and made four FGs against VMI, a key factor in UTC’s victory over the Keydets. He did miss a 36-yarder against Mercer.

Ribeiro (6’0″, 220 lbs.) is also the Mocs’ starting punter. He is averaging 43.3 yards per boot, with 7 of his 17 punts landing inside the 20-yard line (as opposed to 3 touchbacks).

C.J. Board and Xavier Borishade are Chattanooga’s punt returners, with Board the primary option.

Jacob Huesman holds for placekicks. Sophomore Emory Norred (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is in his second year as the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– Chattanooga has 48 players from Tennessee on its roster. Other states represented: Georgia (29), Alabama (14), Florida (2), and one each from Virginia and New York.

I believe that is the smallest number of states represented on a roster of any team in the Southern Conference.

– During the SoCon media teleconference, a sportswriter for STATS asked Russ Huesman a question that referenced one of the Mocs’ prior opponents, “Wooferd”.

– At Russ Huesman’s weekly presser, a reporter asked Huesman this question: “For the loser of Saturday’s game, is the season over?”

Huesman answered, “I have no idea.” I thought it was rather polite of the coach to be so non-committal, given the somewhat over-the-top nature of the question.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 5.5-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 48.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 3.5-point favorite over Mercer; Wofford is a 2-point favorite over Samford; and Western Carolina is a 36-point underdog at Texas A&M.

VMI is off this week. East Tennessee State, incidentally, is a 29-point underdog at Gardner-Webb.

– Among FCS teams, The Citadel is 13th in this week’s Massey Ratings. The ratings for other league teams: Chattanooga, 17th; Western Carolina, 24th; Wofford, 41st; Furman, 49th; Samford, 51st; Mercer, 65th; and VMI, 81st.

Harvard continues to top the Massey FCS Ratings, followed by Jacksonville State, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, and Dartmouth. East Tennessee State is 124th, just ahead of last-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

– Weather forecast for Saturday in Chattanooga, according to the National Weather Service: sunny with a high of 56 degrees, winds out of the north at 5 miles per hour.

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at Finley Stadium.

– I mentioned this was a possibility in my preview of the VMI game, but with the victory over the Keydets, The Citadel’s senior class finished with an 8-0 record in “celebration games” (Parents’ Day/Homecoming). As far as I can tell, they are the first senior class to do so since at least 1953.

– Against VMI, the Bulldogs won the coin toss and elected to defer. It was the fourth time this season The Citadel had won the coin toss. Each time, the Bulldogs have deferred the option to kick/receive until the second half.

Only once this season in a game involving The Citadel has a team won the coin toss and elected to receive (Mercer). On every other occasion, the option has been deferred.

Personally, I think deferring the option is usually the right call. It gives a team the chance to score to end the first half, and then put more points on the board in the second half before the other team gets the ball (and prevents the opponent from having that opportunity).

The decision to defer has been used to great effect by Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. He has won a few games over the years.

– The Citadel will wear white jerseys and white pants in Chattanooga.

– Attendance for the previous four games at Finley Stadium this season: 15,812 (when Chattanooga’s opponent was Jacksonville State); 9,491 (Mars Hill); 7,630 (Furman); 11,495 (Western Carolina).

I would guess there will be a good crowd on hand for Saturday’s game, helped by a sizable influx of fans wearing light blue. Also sure to make their presence felt: several busloads of freshmen cadets, and apparently a significant number of upperclassmen as well.

I remember last year’s game between the two teams, a 34-14 Chattanooga victory that wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate. That was arguably The Citadel’s most disappointing performance of 2014. Actually, it isn’t arguable — it was without question the most disappointing game of the season.

Have the Bulldogs really improved so much that they can reverse a decisive home loss just one year later?

There is no doubt they are significantly better. The record reflects that, and so does the play of the team. The defense (in particular) has made major strides.

UTC has played better at home this year, though (at least in its two league games at Finley), and also has the experience of a recent game with some similarities.

Last season, Western Carolina and Chattanooga were both undefeated and 4-0 when the two teams met in a game that would all but decide the SoCon’s automatic bid to the playoffs. The game was in Cullowhee, but it didn’t matter. UTC blasted the Catamounts, 51-0.

One difference this season is the Mocs are more up against it than they were last year. The loss to Mercer reduced Chattanooga’s margin for error when it comes to postseason play. How will UTC respond?

All that said, I have a lot of faith in the Bulldogs, as should anyone who follows the team. The coaches and players have earned that confidence.

Saturday afternoon can’t get here fast enough.

Kirk Herbstreit: the worst thing going on in college football?

Last Saturday, there was a segment on ESPN’s popular College GameDay show centered around FBS-FCS matchups. You can watch it here:

Link

With the exception of Lee Corso, the ESPN crew was highly critical of FBS-FCS games, particularly those occurring late in the season (an SEC specialty).

The segment began with Chris Fowler listing a series of recent SEC opponents from the FCS. Fowler then noted:

Of course, a year ago this week Georgia Southern went to the swamp and did stun Georgia, giving license to all the SEC coaches to talk up the virtues, the worthiness, of today’s opponents.

Fowler delivered this line with a great deal of sarcasm, concentrating so much on his delivery that he forgot Georgia Southern actually beat Florida last year, not Georgia.

ESPN then showed snippets of various SEC coaches discussing their opponents for this week. The clips were clearly selected to make it seem that the coaches were overhyping their FCS foes.

If you were really paying attention, though, there wasn’t that much sandbagging going on. Mark Richt was probably a little over-the-top in extolling Charleston Southern’s “fever” to win, but there was nothing fraudulent about Gus Malzahn saying Samford was a “good I-AA team” (it is), or Nick Saban stating that Western Carolina was “a much improved team” (certainly true), or Will Muschamp noting that Eastern Kentucky was a playoff team in “I-AA, or whatever we’re calling that now” (he was right, as EKU made the FCS playoffs).

Also, Muschamp lost to an FCS school last year. Why wouldn’t he be concerned with a matchup against another team from that division?

Heck, he had been fired earlier in the week. Why would he have bothered overselling the game anyway?

Arguably, though, the most misleading clips were those of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, as he discussed South Alabama, the Gamecocks’ opponent last Saturday. There was no mention by anyone on the set that South Alabama wasn’t actually an FCS school at all (the Jaguars are members of the Sun Belt).

Considering South Carolina’s struggles of late (particularly on defense), Spurrier had good reason to be respectful of his upcoming opponent.

“We’re not trying to belittle [the FCS],” said Fowler, after spending the previous two minutes belittling the FCS. He then criticized the SEC for playing these games. “It’s not good for the sport.”

After a short interlude with Corso, Kirk Herbstreit looked right at the camera and said:

This is the worst thing that goes on in college football.

Yes. He said that. The worst thing that goes on in the sport. FCS vs. FBS matchups. Not any of the myriad off-field issues, not the safety concerns on the field, none of that.

“No due respect to the FCS and what they’re doing,” Herbstreit continued (with an unintentional but perhaps more accurate slip of the tongue), “…there should be a penalty [from the college football playoff committee]…when you play games like this. We need to eliminate these games when it comes to the non-conference [schedules]. They’re not good for the FCS schools, they’re not good for the SEC schools, or any other schools that play ’em. It’s just bad for the game. We have no games this weekend!”

“I hate it!” me-tooed Desmond Howard, who added that when he was in school, his alma mater (Michigan) didn’t play FCS schools. Of course, that changed after Howard left Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines rather famously played an FCS school in 2007.

Lee Corso then pointed out that the games are a financial boon to the FCS schools. Herbstreit’s response: “We’ve got enough money now…if it’s about the money, give ’em the money, just don’t schedule [these games].” Corso began cackling at the notion.

Let’s go through some of these comments:

– “There should be a penalty…when you play games like this.”

A team that schedules quality FBS non-conference opponents is probably going to be looked upon more favorably by the playoff committee than one that plays lesser competition. I’m not even sure that’s an issue.

Exactly how many FBS schools are going to be competing for one of those playoff spots in a given year, however? There are 65 FBS schools in the power five conferences (including Notre Dame in that group). How many of them are going to be serious contenders for one of four spots? What about the other 63 schools that compete at the FBS level? (Well, we probably know the answer to that last question.)

– “They’re not good for the FCS schools.”

This statement made me wonder if Herbstreit has ever talked to someone associated with an FCS school.

Besides the money aspect mentioned by Corso, FCS players almost always love playing these games. They like to measure themselves against top-level competition. They enjoy playing in large stadiums, in a “big time” atmosphere, often on television.

Fans of smaller schools usually like these games too, especially if they aren’t too far away. They are often used for alumni networking and fundraising.

Sometimes, there is an element of tradition associated with these contests. You don’t think alums from Furman or The Citadel enjoy occasional matchups with South Carolina or Clemson? I can assure you that they do.

– “We have no games this weekend!”

Well, I looked at the schedule. I saw plenty of games.

There may not have been a matchup between two ranked SEC teams, but keep in mind that various ESPN networks featured several prominent SEC battles early in the season, while other conferences were in the midst of their non-league schedules. It’s a trade-off.

The truth of the matter is there were a lot of quality games played last weekend. Maybe you had to look a little deeper into the world of college football to find them, but is that such a bad thing?

Also, remember Week 5 of this season? That Saturday, College GameDay wound up at the Missouri-South Carolina game, due to a perceived lack of quality matchups (both the Gamecocks and Tigers already had a loss at the time, with Mizzou having just lost at home to Indiana).

Was that slate of games so poor because of a bunch of FBS-FCS matchups? No. There were only two such games in that week: Army-Yale (a game won in double overtime by the Elis), and Eastern Illinois-Ohio (the Bobcats won 34-19).

Sometimes, the schedule for a given week just isn’t going to be that alluring. That has little to do with FBS-FCS games (which were only around 7% of the complete FBS schedule for the regular season anyway).

Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir watched Herbstreit and company before WCU played Alabama later that day, and he wasn’t happy.

Now, I think Speir was a little heavyhanded in his criticism of Herbstreit. The “silver spoon” reference was not necessary.

However, I fully understand Speir’s frustration, and he had every right to call out the former Ohio State quarterback for his remarks (particularly the “worst thing that goes on in college football” line uttered by Herbstreit, which was simply ludicrous).

I thought it was good of Speir to speak out, and to let people know that he was personally offended by the comments that were made. Too often the point of view from the FCS side of the aisle goes unheard.

After all, Speir has been a coach on the FCS level for most of his career, including a long stint as an assistant at Appalachian State. He was in Michigan Stadium that fateful day when the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines.

In my opinion, the FCS-FBS matchups are largely good for college football, because college football is about a lot more than the schools in the power five conferences. This is something that appears to be hard for some people to understand.

The concept of what is best for the greater good of college football — well, it seems to be lost in certain quarters. I’ve said this before, but I honestly get the impression some members of the national college football media cabal think there should only be thirty or forty schools that play football, and that the rest should just give up the sport.

I’m not the only person who gets that vibe, judging from these comments by Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman:

Huesman was watching “Gameday” from his hotel room in Greenville, S.C., before the Mocs’ game against Furman, but he said he will not watch the show again.

“Herbstreit has bothered me for a few years now,” Huesman said. “Nothing to him matters except big-time college football. And then Desmond Howard jumped in, too, and that’s when I had had enough. I’ll never watch that show again.

“I thought it was absolutely ridiculous for them to put on a rant like that during the course of a show about college football. I thought it was disrespectful. He just alienated people.

It should be pointed out that the backdrop for Saturday’s ESPN discussion was an FCS game (Yale-Harvard), and that College GameDay visited the fine folks at North Dakota State earlier this season (for the second consecutive year). There are people at the network who clearly appreciate the FCS, along with other divisions of college football. I’m glad for that.

I just wish there were more of them, and that they were on camera.

2014 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 18. The game will be televised by the American Sports Network (affiliate list), with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Corey Miller supplying analysis.

The contest will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform. It will also not be available on ESPN3.com.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “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.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show that will be hosted by Ted Byrne. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 10/14 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Russ Huesman 10/14 press conference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon media teleconference

Aaron Miller is the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week

Cam Jackson is the SoCon and (nationally) TSN Freshman of the Week

Brandon Eakins is WCIV-TV’s Athlete of the Week

Mid-season progress report for the Bulldogs

Mocs wary of The Citadel, especially its run game

Let’s talk about television coverage…

Chattanooga-The Citadel will be televised by the American Sports Network. What is the American Sports Network?

A total of 18 live SoCon events, including six football games, are scheduled for carriage by a network of regional Sinclair stations under the banner of the newly formed American Sports Network (ASN).

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns a bunch of stations around the country, including several in South Carolina. Most of the Sinclair stations are located in the southern and midwestern part of the United States.

In terms of the game on Saturday, this is what we’ve got:

– The game will not be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network (which is a fairly standard practice when a game is televised on “linear” TV).

– It’s not on ESPN3.com, either (unlike the Wofford game earlier or the matchup with VMI later in the season).

– It may be on a station near you. Or it may not.

For satellite TV subscribers, probably the best bet for seeing the game is Altitude Sports, which is carrying UTC-The Citadel for the Rocky Mountain region. Altitude is available as part of DirecTV’s Sports Pack; the game is listed in the guide as appearing on channel 681-1 (an alternate feed for Altitude). Dish Network should also have Altitude Sports.

There is always a possibility the game could be “blacked out” in one or more regions, but at this point I tend to doubt it. I think it will be televised nationwide on Altitude.

For cable subscribers, things may be a little trickier if Altitude Sports is not available. A lot of the local affiliates getting the game are actually carrying it on digital subchannels; for example, in Washington, DC, it will be on WJLA’s “MeTV” subchannel (D-2).

There are also certain areas within the SoCon footprint where the game will not be televised by a local affiliate, notably Columbia and Charlotte. It’s rather disappointing no station in either of those markets is getting Chattanooga-The Citadel.

At the same time the action in Johnson Hagood Stadium begins, Western Kentucky-Florida Atlantic will kick off in Boca Raton. That game is also part of the ASN package, and it’s being televised in Charlotte — but the SoCon matchup is not.

I am frankly puzzled that UTC-The Citadel is not being televised in Columbia, especially since Western Carolina-Furman was carried by Sinclair’s Columbia affiliate (WACH) earlier this year.

Obviously, there are a lot of graduates of The Citadel who live in Columbia and Charlotte. They are not going to be very happy about the way this game has been distributed.

It’s a double whammy for them, in the sense that not only is the game not on TV in their area, but they can’t watch it on the SoCon Digital Network either. Some of The Citadel’s far-flung alumni will have the same problem (the same is true for Chattanooga fans, of course).

I understand what the SoCon was trying to do with this arrangement, and I’m not inclined to be overly critical about it. However, at this point I suspect most fans would rather not have the ASN package at all, and simply take their chances with the SoCon Digital Network.

The good news, from The Citadel’s perspective, is that Saturday’s contest will be the only football game involving the Bulldogs carried by ASN this season.

Update, 10/17/2014: The game will also be televised by MASN, a regional network based in the Baltimore/Washington DC area.

Over the years, I’ve written about Chattanooga (a/k/a UT-Chattanooga, a/k/a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a/k/a UTC) and its branding difficulties. The school has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to one essential question: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill.

In the past, “Moc” was short for “Moccasin”, and referred to a snake, or a shoe, or an Indian (two of them, actually — Chief Chattamoc and, later, Chief Moccanooga). Now it’s a bird.

Chattanooga is similar to The Citadel’s most recent opponent, Charlotte, in that it has been striving for a number of years to establish a “standard” name for its sports teams, i.e. Chattanooga. In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I see no harm in repeating it. A lot of people think The Citadel is a private school, though it is not and has never been.

UTC, on the other hand, was a private college for much of its history (the school was founded in 1886). It did not become a public institution until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.

Last week, Chattanooga lost 45-10 to Tennessee. For playing the Vols in Knoxville, UTC’s department of athletics received $450,000.

It was the second time this season the Mocs had played an FBS opponent, as Chattanooga had opened the season with a 20-16 loss at Central Michigan, a game for which UTC got a check for $350,000. Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman agreed to play a second FBS school this season in part because most of the money received for playing CMU is going to help pay for a new athletics and training center, which has an estimated total price tag of $12-$14 million.

Although still in the planning stages, the new facility, which will be 50,000-60,000 square feet, will include a large team meeting room, academic lounge, expanded offices for the football staff, a state-of-the-art training room and locker room that would be a dramatic upgrade from the team’s current cramped facility.

“The one thing that will allow Chattanooga athletics to take the next step forward, like a Georgia Southern or Appalachian State or North Dakota State, is if we can get an athletics facility built,” [Mocs AD David] Blackburn said. “Given our city and geographical footprint, that’s the only thing we lack. The biggest benefit of having that new facility built is recruiting. This would help us sell the program to the type recruits our staff needs to take that next step.

Of course, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have made the move to FBS. There is no indication that Chattanooga is in a hurry to join those two schools, though last year it was revealed that UTC was on a list of institutions that were “candidates” for Sun Belt expansion.

One of the results of Chattanooga playing two FBS opponents this season is that the Mocs only have five home games. It does help UTC a little that four of them are league contests (against three road conference matchups).

Next year, the Mocs will play Florida State.

Last year, Chattanooga came oh-so-close to finally making the FCS postseason party, a feat the football program has not accomplished since 1984, when UTC made the playoffs for the only time in school history.

That year (1984) was also the last time the Mocs had won the SoCon until last season, when they tied for the title with Furman and Samford. The Paladins received the league’s automatic bid to the playoffs by winning a tiebreaker, while Samford garnered the conference’s sole at-large berth.

Chattanooga was left home with an 8-4 record (the most wins for the program since 1980). The critical loss was probably an overtime setback at Samford late in the season.

The SoCon’s major postseason awards were split last season, with the media and coaches differing on most of their selections. The Mocs swept the coach’s honors, however, with Russ Huesman (Coach of the Year), Jacob Huesman (Offensive Player of the Year), and Davis Tull (Defensive Player of the Year) all collecting trophies.

Jacob Huesman and Tull both return this year, along with several other fine players from last season’s UTC squad. Given that, along with the upheaval in conference membership, it was no surprise when Chattanooga was picked to win the league by 29 of 30 voting media members.

Chattanooga is 3-3 so far this season. The Mocs opened the year with the aforementioned game at Central Michigan, a contest UTC led 16-0 late in the first half before the Chippewas made a comeback.

In its next game, the home opener, Chattanooga dropped a 26-23 overtime decision to Jacksonville State (which is currently ranked 8th in FCS). UTC didn’t score an offensive touchdown in that game; both of its TDs came on interception returns. The Mocs were held to 111 yards of total offense.

UTC picked up its first victory of the season at Austin Peay, soundly defeating the OVC school 42-6. After a bye week, the Mocs defeated Samford 38-24, winning the turnover battle 3-0 and also returning a punt for a touchdown.

Chattanooga then crushed VMI 55-7, with the Keydets avoiding a shutout by scoring with 36 seconds remaining in the game. In the loss to Tennessee on Saturday, the Mocs turned the ball over three times.

UTC employs a run-oriented offense, having passed the ball (or been sacked attempting to do so) on 37.3% of its plays. However, 46.2% of Chattanooga’s total offense has come via the air.

The Mocs are currently last in the SoCon in total offense, though that is often a misleading statistic. Obviously, UTC’s non-league schedule has included two FBS squads and a top-10 FCS opponent as well, though that is balanced somewhat by games against Austin Peay and new conference member VMI.

Perhaps of more concern to UTC fans is its 4.9 yards per offensive play, the second-lowest average in the SoCon (ahead of only Furman). The Mocs are averaging 4.1 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass attempt (Chattanooga is second in the league in offensive pass efficiency).

UTC is converting 35.7% of its third-down attempts, not a particularly good percentage (The Citadel leads the conference in that category, at 49.4%). Chattanooga’s red zone offense has been effective, however, with a TD rate of 70.6%.

The Citadel’s offensive red zone TD rate is 70.3%, a stat buoyed by last week’s performance against Charlotte, when the Bulldogs scored nine touchdowns in nine red zone trips. Samford’s 78.9% TD rate leads the league; Furman’s ghastly 35.3% TD rate is last.

Jacob Huesman is the coach’s son, but he’s not starting because of nepotism. He’s a fine dual-threat quarterback. Earlier this season against VMI, Huesman passed two different career milestones — 2,000 yards rushing, and 4,000 yards passing. He became the first player in program history to attain both marks.

In 2014, the junior signal-caller has completed 62.5% of his passes, averaging 6.38 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns against five interceptions. Huesman threw a 70-yard touchdown pass against Central Michigan. Against VMI, he tossed four TDs in the first half, ran for another, then opened the third quarter with a 44-yard touchdown run.

Huesman has been sacked eight times this season, with four of those coming against Jacksonville State.

Running back Keon Williams was a preseason All-SoCon selection. He missed last week’s game versus Tennessee with a wrist injury, but is expected to play against The Citadel. In last year’s matchup against the Bulldogs, Williams was injured on the opening kickoff and did not play for the rest of the game.

Williams rushed for 131 yards (on 21 carries) against Samford, his one dominant performance so far this season.

Tangent: in the SoCon weekly release’s “superlatives” section, Williams is credited with 131 yards *receiving* against Samford. That’s a mistake, as all of his yardage in that game came on the ground.

Tommy Hudson has missed the last two games with a turf toe problem, but should be back this week. Mike Houston described him as a “playmaker”, and no wonder.

Hudson is a wideout who also returns punts, and when he returns a punt, he has a tendency to go a long way. He has two punt return TDs already this season (a third TD was called back due to a penalty) and is averaging 32.8 yards per return, albeit on only four attempts.

As a receiver, he is averaging 14 yards per catch, with three touchdowns. He was on the receiving end of that 70-yard TD against Central Michigan thrown by Huesman.

C.J. Board, a 6’2″ sophomore, leads the Mocs with 16 receptions. He is averaging 11.75 yards per catch. The other starting wideout for the Mocs, Xavier Borishade, caught a 33-yard TD pass against the Bulldogs last season.

Faysal Shafaat, UTC’s starting tight end, is a 6’5″, 250 lb. handful. He caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last year, part of an all-conference campaign (and also scored against the Bulldogs in 2012). This year, the native of Orlando has been hampered by a shoulder injury, but Shafaat has been healthy for the last two weeks, and had three receptions against Tennessee last Saturday.

UTC’s offensive line suffered a blow prior to its opening game when preseason all-conference pick Synjen Herren injured his knee and was lost for the season. Herren has now been replaced at left guard by Corey Levin (who had been the left tackle), one of several moves on the line.

The o-line is fairly big (two-deep average size: 6’3″, 287 lbs.). Starting right guard Chris Mayes, who began his collegiate career at Navy, is a senior who was moved from the defensive line in the spring.

Hunter Townson is a redshirt freshman who has started the last three games at left tackle for the Mocs. Starting center Jacob Revis is also a redshirt freshman, while right tackle Brandon Morgan has made 27 career starts.

While UTC may be last in the SoCon in total offense, it leads the league in total and rush defense, and its average yards/play allowed of 4.2 is the best mark in the conference.

Chattanooga is only allowing opponents an average of 3.1 yards per rush. The Citadel will have to do much better than that if the Bulldogs are to have a chance at winning this week.

The Mocs have 17 sacks on the season, which leads the league. In second place are the Bulldogs with 15, though 10 of those came in one game (versus Gardner-Webb).

Chattanooga opponents have only converted 36.1% of their third-down attempts. UTC’s defense has given up TDs 55% of the time in the red zone; the league leader in that category happens to be The Citadel, at 51.7%.

UTC has forced 12 turnovers, second-best in the SoCon, and has a turnover margin of +3, also second-best in the league. Chattanooga has recovered six opponents’ fumbles and intercepted six passes, returning two of those errant tosses for TDs (both against Jacksonville State, as mentioned earlier).

Against The Citadel’s triple option attack, the Mocs will likely not deviate from their standard front of four down linemen.

Defensive end Davis Tull is the active FCS leader in sacks, with 32.5. He already has six sacks so far this season, with eleven total tackles for loss. Four of those tackles for loss (and two sacks) came against Samford, a game in which Tull also forced a fumble.

UTC has two quality players at the nosetackle position. Daniel Ring is a transfer from Navy who has started 17 consecutive games, while Derrick Lott is a major roadblock for any offense. Lott, who started his career at Georgia, is a 6’4″, 303 lb. wrecking ball with four sacks this year, his sixth as a collegian (he was injured for most of last season and did not play against The Citadel).

Josh Freeman has two sacks this season, and they came last week against Tennessee. The other starter on the d-line is end Zack Rayl. His backup at right end, Keionta Davis, has three sacks and two forced fumbles this year.

Middle linebacker Muhasabi Wakeel leads the team in tackles, with 49. Last year against The Citadel, he was named SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after a 17-tackle performance.

Nakevion Leslie had 17 tackles versus Central Michigan and has 36 stops on the season. Strong safety Cedric Nettles is averaging 6.8 tackles per game.

Redshirt freshman Lucas Webb is the starting free safety. He has three interceptions, two against Samford and a pick-six versus Jacksonville State.

The other player to return an interception for a TD against JSU, cornerback Dee Virgin, is a 5’10” sophomore from Donalsonville, Georgia. He is second in the SoCon in passes defended, with eight.

The other starter at cornerback for the Mocs, Jeremiah Hay, is also 5’10”, and the first junior college transfer to play for UTC since Russ Huesman became the head coach. Hay is a native of Miami who began his collegiate career at Mississippi before transferring to Pasadena (CA) City College.

Chattanooga has excellent special teams across the board. Hudson is clearly a threat to take any punt back to the house. The Mocs also have an outstanding kick coverage unit.

Placekicker Henrique Ribeiro is a native of Brazil who went to high school in Chattanooga, where he discovered football. He is 6-6 this season kicking field goals (with a long of 47), which means this game will feature two kickers yet to miss a FG this season (as The Citadel’s Eric Goins has made all seven of his field goal attempts).

Nick Pollard handles both the punting and kickoff duties for the Mocs. He is averaging 42.2 yards per punt, with no touchbacks. Eleven of his thirty-nine punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Odds and ends:

– Last season, Chattanooga defeated The Citadel 28-24. I guess UTC was lucky that the final margin was four points, since the Mocs have lost 10 straight games decided by three points or less.

– Chattanooga has no players from South Carolina on its roster. The Mocs do have one Palmetto State connection, as linebackers coach Rusty Wright is from Petticoat Junction, SC.

– Aaron Miller’s 197 rushing yards against Charlotte were the most by any SoCon player so far this season. The 553 rushing yards the Bulldogs had as a team in that game were the most for any FCS squad in 2014.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 49 1/2.

– Earlier this week, The Citadel’s game next season against South Carolina was confirmed. The game will be played on November 21, 2015, and will be the final regular-season matchup that season for the military college.

The Bulldogs will play seven league games next season (four at home) and four non-conference contests (remember, next year the regular-season schedule reverts back to 11 games). The four games The Citadel will play outside the SoCon: at South Carolina, at Georgia Southern (provisionally scheduled for September 19), home against Charleston Southern (on September 26), home against Davidson (the season opener in 2015, on September 5).

This week, The Citadel’s defense will face an offense with a dual-threat quarterback, a quality running back, a big-play threat at wide receiver, and a fairly large offensive line. The Bulldogs encountered a similar cast of characters against Charlotte, and the result was not pretty. As an unwanted bonus, UTC also features a talented tight end who is a serious matchup problem.

The Bulldogs’ D has a major challenge on Saturday. It’s not an impossible one, but it’s difficult.

On the other side of the ball, The Citadel’s offensive line must win the battle up front with an outstanding defensive line, one with multiple playmakers. That will not be easy.

Chattanooga’s special teams units also tend to have the upper hand in most of its games. The Bulldogs must be very sharp in the kicking game on Saturday.

All that said, The Citadel can win this game. It’s an opportunity for the Bulldogs, a chance to make an impact on the conference title race.

It should be a nice, sunny day in Charleston on Saturday. I’m looking forward to an early kickoff at Johnson Hagood Stadium and an exciting, competitive game.

It will be even more exciting if it ends in a Bulldog victory.

 

2013 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Finley Stadium Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 26. 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, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Chattanooga game notes

SoCon weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Russ Huesman on the SoCon media teleconference

Devin Bice says it isn’t time to give up on the season

Jeff Hartsell “crunches the numbers”

Chattanooga’s red zone defense is better than superficial numbers suggest

Non-football link: my preview of the upcoming season for The Citadel’s basketball team

There are two schools of thought about how The Citadel should approach the rest of the season, in terms of on-field activity. One is that, with no real chance at the playoffs or a winning campaign, a youth movement should be accelerated.

The coaches, in that scenario, would give lots of playing time to reserves and experiment with some aspects of the offense and/or defense (like moving Ben Dupree to slotback, etc.).

Devin Bice has other ideas, however:

If we look at the rest of the season like it’s spring practice, or whatever people are saying, we will go downhill. If we keep our heads up and work hard, we can still have a winning season and still actually do something this season.

For a lot of us, this is our last time playing football, so we want to do the best we can do.

I can see both sides of the argument, to be honest. Ultimately, though, I want what is best for the program in the long term. If that means playing a lot of younger guys to prepare them for next season, so be it.

In the italicized blurb that leads off all of my football previews you may have noticed that I referred to Chattanooga’s football facility as “Finley Stadium Davenport Field”. That’s actually the official name, though it is almost universally called “Finley Stadium”.

It seems only fitting that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga would have such a double-barreled naming setup for one of its sports facilities, given its recent history of confusing nomenclature, from its school name to its sports nickname to its mascot.

Chattanooga? UTC? UT-Chattanooga? Tennessee-Chattanooga? University of Tennessee at Chattanooga? Moccasins? Mocs? Is the mascot a bird, a shoe, or a train?

From the school’s game notes:

On first reference, it is acceptable to refer to us as the “University of Tennessee at Chattanooga”. After that, we prefer to be called “Chattanooga” or “UTC.” Our nickname is “Mocs.”

I guess you can’t call it U.S. Grant University anymore…

When it comes to describing Chattanooga’s defense, there are no issues. It’s good. Very good.

The Mocs lead the SoCon in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense. Chattanooga is fourth nationally* in both total and scoring defense.

UTC has a lot of good defensive players, but as Kevin Higgins pointed out this week during the SoCon media teleconference, one key is that the Mocs have a truly outstanding player at each “level” on defense. For the defensive line,  Davis Tull. Among the linebackers, Wes Dothard. In the secondary, safety D.J. Key and cornerback Kadeem Wise.

Tull was the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year in the SoCon and has 6.5 sacks so far this season. Dothard was a first-team all-SoCon pick in both 2011 and 2012 and currently leads the Mocs with 50 tackles.

In last year’s game between Chattanooga and The Citadel, Wise had eight tackles and an interception, resulting in player of the week honors from the conference. Key led the Mocs that day with twelve tackles.

Chattanooga’s red zone defense numbers look bad on the surface. Opponents are 17 for 17 in terms of scoring when in the red zone. However, only eight of those seventeen red zone trips have resulted in touchdowns for opposing teams.

That defensive red zone TD% would rank in the top 20 of FBS, and probably would be at least as good among FCS squads (there is no readily available data to confirm that). In contrast, The Citadel’s defense has allowed touchdowns on 23 of 29 red-zone possessions (the worst percentage in the SoCon).

*Quick tangent: I didn’t realize until reading the SoCon’s weekly release that Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are not listed among FCS programs in the NCAA’s statistics summary. That makes sense, though.

Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman made a decision after last season to emphasize running the football in 2013. Early returns have been largely positive.

The Mocs are twelfth in FCS in rushing offense, fourth in the SoCon (behind the three triple option teams). UTC is third in the league in yards per carry and second in third-down conversion percentage.

The bottom line for an offense is scoring points, and UTC is third in the SoCon in scoring offense, averaging just over 31 points per game. Last season, the Mocs averaged 25.5 points per contest. Chattanooga’s yards per play has increased from 5.1 in 2012 to 5.7 this year.

A key factor to the improved running game has been the emergence of Keon Williams.The 6’0″, 225 lb. junior running back is averaging 98.1 yards per game (second in the SoCon), with five 100-yard rushing efforts this season. He’s the bellwether for UTC; in the two games he did not rush for 100 yards (against UT-Martin and Georgia Southern), the Mocs lost.

After a bit of drama last season, Jacob Huesman (son of the head coach) is now firmly established as Chattanooga’s quarterback. He is having a fine season, completing over 67% of his passes with eleven TDs and four interceptions.

He is also a threat on the ground, averaging 79 yards rushing per contest. Huesman had 148 yards rushing against Georgia Southern.

Huesman’s competitor for the starting QB spot last year, Terrell “Silk” Robinson, is playing receiver while also listed on UTC’s depth chart as the backup QB. In 2012, Robinson caught 40 passes, including five touchdowns. Against The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium, he rushed for a touchdown and also threw a TD pass.

Robinson has not had as big an impact so far this season, with eighteen receptions in six games (eight of his catches came against Western Carolina). UTC has two players with nineteen receptions, and tight end Faysal Shafaat has seventeen. Shafaat and backup wideout Marquis Green have combined to catch seven TD passes.

Starting cornerback Chaz Moore is also UTC’s primary kick returner, and he is currently sixth in the FCS with a return average of over 30 yards. Moore had an 81-yard KO return versus Western Carolina. Tommy Hudson is the Mocs’ punt returner and is averaging an impressive 9.5 yards per return.

Nick Pollard handles the placekicking and punting duties for Chattanooga. He is 3 for 4 on field goal attempts (with a long of 35), and is averaging 40.6 yards per punt. Nine of his twenty-five punts have landed inside the 20-yard line.

UTC’s kickoff coverage unit is slightly below average.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel’s players did a variety of things during the bye week. Some left campus for the first time since August, according to Kevin Higgins (we’ll excuse the coach for forgetting about the Bulldogs’ three road games).

During the SoCon teleconference, Higgins also mentioned that the coaches were focused on “changing tendencies” and trying to get the team to “execute better” on both sides of the ball, including making sure players “finish blocks” and tackle by “wrapping up”.

– Jeff Hartsell focused on a few statistics in a column that I linked earlier. Just to follow up on his comments about the offense’s struggles converting third downs, last year The Citadel averaged 5.2 third-and-long plays per game (third-and-long being defined as third and five or more yards to go for a first down).

This year, the Bulldogs are averaging 8.9 third-and-long plays per contest. That’s a significant difference.

– If Chattanooga wins on Saturday, it will be its 500th all-time football victory. UTC’s most common opponent over the years has been The Citadel, oddly enough. The schools have met on the gridiron 46 times.

The Citadel has faced six opponents more than 46 times: Davidson, Furman, Presbyterian, South Carolina, VMI, and Wofford.

– Per at least one source, Chattanooga is a 14-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 51.5, which is basically what you would get if you averaged total scoring per game for each team.

Russ Huesman says that The Citadel is “the best 2-5 team in the country, bar none.”

I would much rather be the worst 7-0 team in the country…

To me, there are two questions that stand out about this game:

1) How motivated will The Citadel be? Will the team come off its bye week ready to make a statement over the second half of the season, or will we see a repeat of the general malaise that has defined the campaign so far?

There are still several games that the Bulldogs are capable of winning. I’m counting the one coming up on Saturday as one of them. Does the team have that type of mindset?

2) Just how good is Chattanooga?

The Mocs are 5-2, losing to UT-Martin and Georgia Southern. Both the Skyhawks and Eagles are good teams, with a combined eight wins between them.

UTC’s five wins have come versus teams with a combined record against Division 1 opponents of 4-31. Furman is responsible for three of those wins. The other D1 win in the group is Elon’s victory over…Furman.

Put it this way: the best win any of Chattanooga’s opponents has all season is Furman’s win over The Citadel.

That doesn’t mean the Mocs aren’t good. It does explain why a 5-2 SoCon team isn’t ranked, and why the jury is still out on this Chattanooga team.

After this game, we’ll probably have a good idea how the season will wind down. An indifferent performance will not go over well with the fan base, particularly with Homecoming looming.

Plenty of alums will be arriving in Charleston in a week’s time, and a lot of them will be asking why a potential playoff team hasn’t been winning. Some of those conversations might be rather direct.

If the team plays well in Chattanooga on Saturday, it will help keep things relatively calm. It won’t stop the questions, but the questions will be more politely phrased.

Here’s hoping for civility…

2012 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 29.  The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the twelve 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 and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. 

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

Chattanooga game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Sports Network FCS Poll

UTC coach Russ Huesman’s weekly press conference

The Kevin Higgins Show, Part 1 and Part 2

Okay, I had to post this too. It doesn’t have anything to do with the game on Saturday, but who cares. From Chattanooga’s athletics website [Link]:

Bath Fitter, a proud sponsor of the Chattanooga Mocs, has officially launched the “Bath Fitter Ugliest Bathtub Contest” which will run during the entire Chattanooga Mocs Football season. Bath Fitter is seeking out Mocs fans that claim to have the UGLIEST BATHTUB in Chattanooga! The winner of the contest will receive a FREE brand new bathtub or shower and installation courtesy of Bath Fitter.

Entering is easy. Simply take a picture of your ugly bathtub or shower [etc.]…

Last year’s game between The Citadel was one for the books, although it isn’t a story that the Mocs will want to read again. The Bulldogs pulled off the biggest comeback in school history, spotting Chattanooga 27 points before scoring 28 unanswered points of their own and holding on for a 28-27 victory.

That game was just one of a surprising number of close contests to have been played in this series over the years. In fact, in the last twenty-five games between Chattanooga and The Citadel, seventeen of them have been decided by a touchdown or less; eleven of those seventeen have been decided by three or fewer points.

Seven of those seventeen contests have been played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with The Citadel winning four of them. Of those, probably the most memorable (and important) was the 1988 game, won by the Bulldogs 23-17. UTC pushed for a last-gasp TD to win the game, and had first-and-goal on the three-yard-line, but The Citadel made a big defensive stand to preserve the victory. It was the third of seven straight victories for the Bulldogs that season.

Note: if you read the linked game story, writer James Beck seems to imply that The Citadel got more than a little help from the officials at the end of the contest. I am not sure what game he was watching that day. For example, the clip on Jay Jackson was rather obvious.

As for the final play, no one in the press box (and few in the stands) could really see it because it happened in the far corner of the end zone, on the side opposite the Touchdown Cannon Crew. 

Yes, I’m being a touch defensive — but the first six paragraphs in Beck’s article were devoted to an angle that wasn’t really true. What is perplexing is that later in the same story he quoted the UTC receiver on the final play: “‘I had the ball until I hit the ground and then it popped loose,’ Philpot admitted.” Well, there you go.

Gene Brown, in the middle of his memorable one-year run as the Bulldogs’ quarterback, got hurt in the UTC game and missed the next two contests. Tommy Burriss started those two games, and led The Citadel to victories over Boston University and East Tennessee State. Both of those schools later dropped football.

Tommy Burriss, program killer.

Odds and ends, some relevant, some not-so-much:

– During his press conference, UTC coach Russ Huesman seemed to be under the impression that The Citadel was a private school. He made a reference suggesting as much when asked why the Bulldogs had “jumped up” to compete in the league this season. According to Huesman, The Citadel has “spread [itself] out” geographically to recruit better players, something that “places like that, smaller private schools, [have to do].”

The Citadel has never been a private school, but some folks might be surprised to know that until 1969, the University of Chattanooga was a private school. At that time, it merged with the University of Tennessee system.

– UTC lost three games last year by the exact same score, 28-27. All came in league play, and all three came against the three SoCon schools that run the triple option. That is an amazing coincidence.

The Citadel had never been involved in a contest that ended with a 28-27 score in its history before last season’s game.

– Kevin Higgins has mentioned that he likes to have a bye week occur after playing an FBS squad, a luxury the Bulldogs don’t have this year. During his seven-plus seasons as head coach of The Citadel, the Bulldogs have played the week immediately following a game against an FBS opponent on four occasions. The Citadel is 2-2 in such games, all at home.

The two losses were the triple-OT loss to Furman in 2005 (after playing Mississippi) and the horrific loss to CSU in 2006 (which following a game against Texas A&M). The Bulldogs beat Presbyterian 26-14 in 2010 (following a long trip to the desert to face Arizona) and edged Chattanooga 24-21 in 2006 (after playing Pittsburgh the week before).

– Of UTC’s six losses last season, five were by a total of twelve points. The Citadel lost seven games last year; four of them were by a total of seventeen points.

– The Citadel was the least-penalized team in all of FCS last season, both in terms of number of penalties and yardage. Chattanooga was fourth nationally in both categories, so there should be a lot of disciplined players on the field this Saturday.

– Looking through UTC’s game notes, I noticed that Jack Douglas holds the record for most rushing attempts by an opponent against the Mocs, rushing 38 times in the 1991 game (for 155 yards). Douglas’ 38 carries are the second-most by a Bulldog in a game, only bettered by Andrew Johnson’s 47 carries against William & Mary in 1974 (Johnson rushed for 241 yards against the Tribe).

The Bulldogs had 83 rushing attempts as a team in that 1991 contest, a 33-26 loss at Chattanooga, the most by an opponent against UTC, and also the most attempts The Citadel has ever had in a contest.

That was the first game for The Citadel after ditching an ill-fated experiment with the “split back veer”. From the Chattanooga game onward, the Bulldogs ran the wishbone for the rest of Charlie Taaffe’s tenure as head coach of The Citadel.

– Another Bulldog, Nehemiah Broughton, holds the distinction of having made the longest TD run from scrimmage by an opponent against the Mocs, a 92-yarder in 2004 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel won that game 44-24. It was the third-longest run in The Citadel’s history, only eclipsed by Bob Carson’s 95-yard TD versus Boston University in 1971 and Travis Jervey’s 96-yard touchdown against VMI in 1994.

Jervey will be inducted into The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame this weekend.

– Halftime adjustments and speeches, ahoy: The Citadel has outscored its opponents 52-7 in the third quarter this season.

– In the 1988 game against Chattanooga I mentioned earlier, the Mocs’ head coach was Buddy Nix. He is now the general manager of the Buffalo Bills.

– There has been some talk about beer being sold in the concessions stands at Finley Stadium during Chattanooga home football games, but no decision will be made on that until UTC hires a new chancellor and director of athletics. Chattanooga averaged 10,436 fans per game last season at Finley.

Chattanooga basically ran a “pro-style” offense last season, which took advantage of the talents of starting quarterback B.J. Coleman. Without Coleman, and with two quarterbacks who can both run and pass, the Mocs looked to transition into a spread attack this season.

There have been a few speed bumps along the way, none bigger than the drama of three weeks ago, when Terrell “Silk” Robinson quit the team on September 4, then changed his mind and rejoined the squad two days later.

Robinson was the 2011 co-freshman of the year in the SoCon for his efforts replacing Coleman after the latter was injured midway through the season. Robinson started three games at quarterback for the Mocs last year, and also started this year’s season opener against South Florida. However, he was replaced during that game by Jacob Huesman, who has started at QB for the last three games.

Jacob Huesman is, of course, the son of the head coach, and so this isn’t your average quarterback controversy. Of course, not everyone is willing to admit it is a controversy at all.

Regardless of which one takes the majority of the snaps on Saturday, expect Robinson to be on the field in some capacity on most offensive downs. Russ Huesman had this to say about how the offense was going to be structured against The Citadel:

The bottom line is that Terrell and Jacob better get touches. This is the last week I’m going to say that. They are our two best players when the ball is in their hands. They have to touch the ball.

In his press conference, Huesman mentioned Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and the KSU offense as a model for what he would like to see from the Mocs. Against Oklahoma last Saturday, Klein threw 21 passes and had 17 rushing attempts. That is presumably the kind of output Huesman would like to see from the quarterback position, with (I’m guessing) some additional “touches” for Robinson as a receiver.

That certainly didn’t happen last week against Appalachian State. In that game, the two QBs combined to throw the ball 35 times, with only 14 rushing attempts (and four of those were sacks). It did not help that 12 of UTC’s 27 plays on first down were “spike plays” — plays that gained zero yards, or lost yards, and thus no better than just spiking the football.

Hey, I’m providing trendy, cutting-edge terminology in these previews.

Chattanooga’s offensive line has some experience, with 80 career starts among the five projected starters on Saturday, but left tackle Brandon Morgan is questionable for the game against The Citadel with a shoulder injury, and his backup is recovering from a knee problem. Starting left guard Synjen Herren is the least experienced of the starting group, as he is a redshirt freshman. Right tackle Adam Miller has started 36 games in his career and was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection.

Marlon Anthony, who caught six passes against the Bulldogs last season, is UTC’s leading returning receiver, but he has been slowed by an ankle injury (he started his first game of the season against App State). The Mocs’ top passing target is actually tight end Faysal Shafaat, a 6’5″, 240-lb. native of Orlando who leads UTC in both receptions (16) and receiving yardage (177) after four games. He will be a difficult matchup for The Citadel, as will Anthony (who is also 6’5″).

Three different running backs have started for the Mocs this season.Between them, they are averaging 3.6 yards per carry. The most experienced of the three, senior J.J. Jackson, is a dependable receiver out of the backfield, with seven receptions this year (12.7 yards per catch).

By the way, the longest play from scrimmage by a UTC player so far this season was a 62-yard run by Jacob Huesman against Jacksonville State. That came on the first play of his first career start.

“Typically throughout the years, Russ and this defense have played the option as good, if not better than everybody else in our league,” The Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said during Tuesday’s Southern Conference media teleconference.

Huesman didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment, but he did say he felt “about as good as you can feel going into an option game.”

UTC defense — 2011

The Citadel: 265 yards rushing, 4.6 ypc
Georgia Southern: 326 yards rushing, 6.2 ypc
Wofford: 358 yards rushing, 5.6 ypc

UTC defense — 2010

The Citadel: 238 yards rushing, 4.2 ypc
Georgia Southern: 255 yards rushing, 5.2 ypc
Wofford: 295 yards rushing, 4.5 ypc

The 2011 numbers for the three teams against Chattanooga are very close to what they averaged per game on the ground that season. The Mocs won two of the six games listed above, beating both The Citadel and Georgia Southern in 2010.

One curiosity in the schedule is that in each of the last three years (including this one), Chattanooga has played the three triple option teams in the same order — The Citadel first, followed by Georgia Southern and then Wofford. This year is different in that the Mocs have a bye week after playing the Bulldogs. In the previous two seasons, UTC played The Citadel and Georgia Southern in back-to-back weeks.

UTC does have a number of outstanding defensive players, and will definitely be a challenge for Triple O’Higgins. One major difference between last year’s team and this season’s squad is the presence of two big (and I mean big) newcomers in the middle of the defensive line. Derrick Lott is a 6’4″, 303-lb. transfer from Georgia, while his backup Chris Mayes is a 6’3″, 295-lb. transfer from the Naval Academy. Both will see time, and both will be more than a handful for the Bulldogs’ o-line.

They join proven performers like Buchanan Watch list member Wes Dothard, the Mocs’ outstanding middle linebacker; defensive ends Josh Williams (an all-conference performer) and Davis Tull (who already has four sacks this season); and excellent defensive backs D.J. Key (strong safety) and Kadeem Wise (cornerback).

Nick Pollard is the regular placekicker and punter for the Mocs this season, after just handling FGs and PATs last year (and handling them fairly well). On kickoffs and long field goals, UTC will usually trot out freshman Henrique Ribiero. In this case, it appears “long field goals” means more than 40 yards. Ribiero is a native of Brazil who made a 57-yard field goal in high school.

The Mocs employ the “rugby style” of punting, which they went to late last season after some punt protection problems (notably the punt blocked by Chris Billingslea for a Rod Harland TD in The Citadel’s victory over UTC).  It will be interesting to see how the Bulldogs’ punt return team adjusts to this particular punting technique.

Chaz Moore is a solid kickoff returner who the Bulldogs must contain. The Citadel allowed a long kickoff return in the App State game, something that got overshadowed by the fact that the Bulldogs had so many kickoffs in that game. Both of The Citadel’s kickoff return units must improve on Saturday.

I think Saturday’s game is going to be a tight affair. Chattanooga almost has to win the game if it has any hopes of making a playoff push, while The Citadel needs to regain any momentum lost following the NC State game.

Points may be at a premium, which wouldn’t be the best omen for the home team. Kevin Higgins is now 2-36 when one of his Bulldog teams fails to score more than 20 points in a game. UTC is also a decent road team (6-6 in its last twelve SoCon road contests).

I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I’m just worried about facing a somewhat desperate but talented team, one that remembers all too well the game it let get away last season.

There are positive developments to consider as well, though. Derek Douglas should see more snaps on Saturday, which can only help the defense, particularly the defensive line. Speaking of the d-line, Mark Thomas has played like a potential star, a very nice bonus this year.

After just four games, The Citadel is only 40 yards away from surpassing its aerial yardage total from all of last season. Think about that.

Saturday’s game will feature halftime ceremonies honoring the newest members of The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame. I already noted that one of them is Travis Jervey. The others are former baseball pitchers Jim Scott and Brian Wiley, 800-meter runner Mike Cason, and former basketball coach and AD Les Robinson.

I hope a good crowd shows up for this game. There is a chance for thunderstorms in the Charleston area on Saturday night, which could be a problem in terms of walk-up attendance (that was certainly the case for the GSU game). Still, I would like to think that with the way the Bulldogs have performed so far this season, there is an uptick of support, and a corresponding increase in the number of people in the stands. We shall see.

Can’t wait for Saturday.

2011 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played at Finley Stadium, with kickoff at 6:05 pm ET on Saturday, October 1.  The game will not be televised.  The game can be heard on radio via The Citadel Sports Network, with “Voice of the Bulldogs” Danny Reed calling the action alongside analyst Walt Nadzak.  Bulldog Insider will also provide free audio; the only video available for this game is being provided by Chattanooga as part of a subscription service.

This post will serve as a combination review of the Elon game and preview of the Chattanooga contest.  I’m combining them because A) I’ve been a little busy, and B) I’m not sure I have enough to say about the two games to justify separate posts.

I’ll have to do the same thing next week, because I definitely won’t have the chance to write a review of the UTC game, as I will be travelling.  I won’t even be able to listen to Danny Reed and Walt Nadzak call the game on the radio.

That’s what I did for the Elon game, as I had another obligation.  As a result I found myself listening to Reed and Nadzak as I drove through a series of thunderstorms (one would pop up about every five minutes; it was ridiculous) while trying to navigate I-26 on a football Saturday.  Between the rain and the Gamecock fans heading to Columbia (some of whom drove about as well as Stephen Garcia threw the ball that night), it was a bit of an adventure.

I concentrated on Reed’s call, though, and he did a solid job informing his listeners about the game.  I also learned he likes to call running backs “sidecars”.

I did go back and look at some of the game later, courtesy of Elon’s video recording, which came in handy.  It helped flesh out some of the observations that follow, though it’s not the same thing as seeing the game “live”, either in person or via an internet stream.

I want to talk about play-calling for a moment.  Specifically, I’m going to write about two play calls in the first quarter.  Now, I don’t pretend to be any kind of coach; as I have said numerous times before, I’m just a dude with a computer.  It’s obviously not an easy task to coordinate an offense or defense, or call plays and formations.  There was a good article on this subject in The Post and Courier last week that featured Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.  It was quite illuminating (I have to say part of Steele’s routine struck me as overkill, but what do I know).

Anyway…

— On the first series of the game, the Bulldogs had second and eight from their own 31-yard line.  The Citadel ran an end-around receiver pass, with wideout Luke Caldwell’s toss to Kevin Hardy falling incomplete.  The play did not appear to fool the Elon defense.

I’m not sure that’s a good play to run at the beginning of the game, when you’re trying to establish an offensive rhythm.  Having said that, a variation of that play helped The Citadel win the game against Samford last year (and worked perfectly in one of the pre-season scrimmages).

It didn’t matter much, because on the next play Ben Dupree reversed field and scampered for 36 yards, extending the drive.  That would eventually lead to the play call that really bothered me.

— The Bulldogs had third-and-goal on the Elon three-yard line.  Dupree got the snap, took a quick drop, and threw a slant pass in the general direction of Domonic Jones. The pass was not accurate, but would not have been completed even if it had been.  It was well defended.

1) The team is on the three-yard line, with two downs to score, running the triple option.  Even if the Bulldogs don’t score on third down, the opportunity is there to go for it on 4th down if The Citadel picks up a yard or two.  That’s what the offense is all about.

2) Okay, so the coaches want to mix things up with a pass — but why on third down? That’s the one down Elon might have expected a pass play.  In that sequence, I think throwing the ball on first or second down is the better plan.

3) Also, the pass itself included no play-action.

4) Jones is 6’5″.  Maybe a fade might have been a better idea than a slant.

A lot of people probably concentrated on the short field goal that was missed following that play, but to me the real missed opportunity occurred one or two plays earlier.

Speaking of the kicking game, I am on record as saying I don’t blame the kickers. One thing that anyone following The Citadel knows is that the placekicking has been inconsistent for several years.  That’s not about the kickers, the holders, or the snappers.  That’s coaching.  Either the players need to be coached better, or the coaches need to find better players.

The missed field goals are frustrating, but almost as problematic is the kick return unit, which is averaging less than 20 yards per return.  Against Elon, the Bulldogs started at their own 29-, 10-, 27-, and 30-yard lines after Phoenix kickoffs.  That needs to improve.

I thought Elon coach Jason Swepson inadvertently assisted The Citadel on Saturday with a couple of curious decisions.  After an Aaron Mellette touchdown reception gave Elon a 12-7 lead with 12:55 remaining in the third quarter, Swepson elected to go for two points, despite the fact that almost 28 minutes remained in the game.  The Phoenix didn’t make the conversion, which struck me as justice served, because nobody should start chasing points with so much time left in a game.

After a Bulldog fumble, Elon had the ball at The Citadel 38-yard line with 2:32 remaining in the fourth quarter.  After a Phoenix first down moved the ball to the 27-yard line, Elon ran the ball (and the clock) to set up a 44-yard field goal attempt, which was missed.  In my opinion, the Phoenix settled too quickly for the long FG try.

After The Citadel’s game notes indicated the Bulldogs were going to wear white jerseys and white pants against Elon, The Citadel broke out navy pants instead.  The Bulldogs wore that combo once last season, versus Wofford.  The Bulldogs lost that game 35-0.  In the two white jerseys/navy pants games, five different Bulldog passers have combined to go 3-14 for 21 yards, and the team has averaged just 7.5 points per game, which is actually worse than the 9.7 ppg the team has averaged in the ten SoCon games played since installing the triple option.

Maybe they should have worn the white pants…

I wrote this three years ago about Chattanooga’s football program, which was in the middle of a 1-11 campaign:

You know it’s been a bad season when the beat writer for the local paper notes that “punter Jeff Lloyd, who lost his starting job for three games, may be the Mocs’ most productive player.”

Later in the column he writes that Lloyd has been effective “when he has been able to get a punt off.”

UTC’s struggles have presented an opportunity for assorted anti-football advocates to step forward and call for the program’s elimination.  The loudest of these voices is a computer science professor at UTC named Joe Dumas.  From the link:

“This is a perfect time for UTC to get out of the football business for good and concentrate on academics while maintaining successful athletic programs like basketball, golf, tennis, etc.”

Well, Chattanooga didn’t drop the football program.  Instead, the school hired alumnus Russ Huesman to coach the team, and that proved to be a very good decision.  Huesman currently has a winning record in both league play (9-8) and overall (14-12), which is quite impressive when you consider the state of the program when he took over.

I did a little googling, but could not find any recent proclamations by Dr. Dumas on the subject of UTC football.  He is still at the school, but seems to be a bit more interested in politics right now, at least from what I could determine.  It is probable he still feels the football program should be eliminated, but it’s hard to make your voice heard on such matters when people are loudly celebrating victories.

Even though the Mocs lost a tough game last week at Appalachian State, you could make an argument that Chattanooga has been the most impressive SoCon team so far this season.  After a 40-7 loss to Nebraska in which the Mocs did not embarrass themselves, UTC reeled off consecutive non-conference FCS wins over Jacksonville State (38-17) and Eastern Kentucky (23-14), the latter a road victory.

Entering the game against Appy, Chattanooga had the most impressive early-season resume of any conference squad.  Against the Mountaineers, UTC did not allow an offensive touchdown, but two defensive TDs by App State did in the Mocs.

B.J. Coleman is in his third year as UTC’s starter after transferring from Tennessee, and is a major reason why the program is on the upswing.  Coleman has 48 career TD passes (against 26 interceptions).  I remember the game two years ago, when Coleman led a comeback victory over The Citadel by throwing 61 passes, somehow including no rushing attempts or sacks.

Coleman’s primary target is Joel Bradford, who was first-team all-SoCon last season and is well on his way to repeating that honor.  Bradford had 15 receptions for 162 yards in the win over Jacksonville State.

Chattanooga rushed for 212 yards against Jacksonville State, but only 32 yards at Appalachian State.  Interestingly, Huesman seemed more upset with his receivers’ blocking than that of his offensive line versus Appy.

On defense, UTC has been solid since the Nebraska game, particularly excelling on third down; its last three opponents as a group only converted 19% of the time in that situation.  Redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Wes Dothard has been the SoCon defensive player of the week for two of the last three weeks.  UTC’s strong linebacking corps also includes Ryan Consiglio, who had 13 tackles in the loss to Appalachian State, and all-name candidate Gunner Miller.

The defensive backfield is excellent, and includes 2010 SoCon freshman of the year Kadeem Wise (who had seven interceptions last season) along with veterans Chris Lewis-Harris and Jordan Tippet.

The Mocs will miss Nick Davison, as the defensive tackle is out for the season after an ACL injury.

Punter Mike Hammons is a three-year starter, but placekicker Nick Pollard is a freshman who has yet to make a field goal of longer than 30 yards.

The Citadel’s defense has been really good so far, to state the obvious.  I was really glad to see the excellent play in the red zone against Elon (after struggling in that department last season against the Phoenix), and the forced turnovers.  It was an outstanding effort from the entire unit.

In the last two years against Chattanooga, though, the D has A) let the quarterback throw the ball 61 times without being sacked, giving up a big lead in the process, and B) allowed 222 rushing yards in a game.

I don’t expect either of those things to occur on Saturday, but UTC’s offense will again pose a stiff challenge.  Obviously giving up around 30 points or so isn’t going to work for The Citadel, given the offensive issues.

At his news conference Monday, Higgins reaffirmed his belief in starter Ben Dupree, while leaving open the possibility of using backup Matt Thompson or even true freshman Aaron Miller.

“Possibly,” Higgins said when asked about using other QBs. “Ben has only started five games now, so there is still a learning curve. He obviously has to get better. Ben has to improve, but if we need to use Matt or Aaron, we will.”

The Citadel had plenty of less-than-stellar passing days last season where Dupree wasn’t involved, like the aforementioned 2-8 (11 yards, plus an interception) against Wofford, or the 0-6 performance versus Appalachian State, or the “3 for us, 3 for them” outing in the Georgia Southern debacle (3 completions, 3 interceptions), or last year’s game against UTC (2-8 for 25 yards and a pick).

I don’t think passing in and of itself would be enough to dislodge Dupree from the #1 QB spot.  If he is having trouble making the reads in the Triple O’Higgins, that would obviously be a different story.  I don’t think that’s what this is about, though.  It’s really about the passing component of the triple option in general not working, whether because of passing, blocking, receiving, play-calling, or all of the above.  Whatever it is, it’s clearly bigger than just one player.

I’ll find out sometime on Sunday how the game went.  I hope it’s worth the wait.

Go Dogs!