Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Elon

Time/location:  2:00 pm ET, Johnson Hagood Stadium

Television:  None (maybe a good thing)

It’s Homecoming at The Citadel.  What can alums expect from the Bulldogs’ offense against Elon?

Well, let’s look at the trends in Southern Conference play.  The first game was against Furman.  The latest was against Wofford.  So, in order:

Furman — 359 total yards, 14 points

Western Carolina — 304 total yards, 13 points

Chattanooga — 263 total yards, 10 points

Appalachian State — 197 total yards, 10 points

Georgia Southern — 160 yards, 0 points

Wofford — 143 total yards, 0 points

Now, that’s what I call a trend…

The yards per play is very close to the same orderly negative statistical trend, but there was a minor uptick against GSU (masked by nine turnovers).  For the record, The Citadel’s yards per play in the SoCon, in order of games played:  4.6, 4.1, 4.0, 3.3, 3.4, 2.3

So, if things continue as they have in the league, The Citadel’s Homecoming will feature an offense that will accumulate less than 140 yards of total offense, average about 2 yards per play, and won’t score.

I don’t think it will be that bad, but it’s hard to find much to be encouraged about, at least offensively (the defense has played fairly well over the last month, certainly well enough for the Bulldogs to have won SoCon games if the offense had been competent).

Turnovers have been the headline problem, of course, but another issue is that the Bulldogs aren’t making big plays in the offense.  One reason The Citadel has scored only five touchdowns in six conference games is a lack of long-distance runs or passes.  The Bulldogs only have had eight plays of 20+ yards in those six contests; only two of those plays were longer than 30 yards — and one of those two plays was a 33-yard run by punter Cass Couey, obviously not a product of the option offense.

The Bulldogs have had nine drives of greater than 50 yards in league play.  Four of those nine came against Furman in the conference opener.  None came in the last two games.

Incidentally, of those nine 50+ yard drives, Matt Thompson was the quarterback for five of them, Sam Martin the QB for the other four.

I would like to think the Bulldogs will give a spirited performance for the Homecoming crowd.  That didn’t happen last season, when The Citadel lost 43-17 to Wofford in a very poor showing that greatly disappointed the alumni.

The year before, the Bulldogs narrowly averted a horrific loss at Homecoming to a terrible Chattanooga team.  The Mocs were in the process of mailing in their season under a lame-duck coach, but The Citadel needed last-minute heroics from Andre Roberts to escape with a 24-21 victory.

This year’s Homecoming game has been designated as a “Red Out”.  There are two reasons for this, in my opinion.

The official reason is to commemorate the return of “Big Red”.  The other (and this is just my opinion) is to take advantage of the largest crowd of the season and sell a bunch of “Big Red” merchandise.

That crowd size has to be the only reason the administration would have considered having a “Red Out” for a game in which the opponent is Elon, whose primary school color is…red.  At least, I hope that’s the only reason.  It still strikes me as not being a wise decision, and I know I’m not the only one.

The effort to promote Big Red apparently will also include red jerseys for the football team, if the rumors are true (and I’m sure they are).  There will also be a special Homecoming helmet design (see post #40 on this thread from TCISN), which is basically a remake of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ helmets.  Not bad, but not innovative or particularly interesting.

If The Citadel does indeed don red jerseys against Elon, that will mean the Bulldogs would not have worn the traditional home color combo of light blue jerseys/white pants for any home game this season.  I guess at this point our traditional colors are now alternate colors, and the alternate uniforms are the “main” uniforms.

Below I’ve listed the color combos for all nine games to date in 2010:

Chowan (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Arizona (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Presbyterian (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Furman (road):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Western Carolina (home):  light blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Appalachian State (road):  white jerseys, white pants

Chattanooga (home):  dark blue jerseys, white pants

Georgia Southern (home):  dark blue jerseys, dark blue pants

Wofford (road):  white jerseys, dark blue pants

One thing I’m unfortunately fairly confident about:  if The Citadel does wear red jerseys on Saturday, the jerseys will have “CITADEL” on the front, and not “THE CITADEL”. That, of course, is true for all the other jerseys the Bulldogs have worn this year, regardless of color.  I assume it’s a cost-saving issue, as having the “THE” on the jersey would undoubtedly cost the school hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is one of my more cynical and less positive posts, and so the fact it’s also one of my shorter game previews is probably just as well.  That said, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised on Saturday.  For one thing, it’s time for a little payback as far as Elon is concerned.  The Phoenix’s last visit to Johnson Hagood Stadium (in 2008) was a victory for the visitors, one basically handed to Elon by inept Southern Conference officiating.

Quarterback Scott Riddle may not start for Elon due to injury.  You may remember the last time Riddle started something against The Citadel; he ran away before finishing it, though.

Riddle can talk to Fred Jordan about shoulder injuries…

I’m not expecting a brawl on Saturday.  I do want to see some fight in the Bulldogs, though.

Review: Wofford

During the game, SportSouth played a clip of The Citadel Regimental Band playing at the 2010 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

It was easily the highlight of the telecast for The Citadel.

Sam Wyche struggled trying to come up with a positive for the Bulldogs.  At one point, he noted that The Citadel had cut its turnovers in half from the week before.  When the best thing that can be said about your offense is that it didn’t commit nine turnovers in consecutive weeks, your offense has issues.

(Wyche also struggled with calling Kevin Higgins by his right name, at least twice referring to “Mike Higgins” before sheepishly correcting himself.  I think Wyche is a solid announcer, so I wouldn’t hold it against him.  Calling a game like that one can be difficult.)

The Citadel has been shut out in consecutive games for the first time in a decade.  In case you were wondering, the last time the Bulldogs were shut out three times in a row was 1953, when The Citadel actually suffered four straight shutout losses.  I would say that if the Bulldogs can’t put a crooked number on the board against Elon on Homecoming, it’s going to get ugly, but the fact is that it’s already ugly.

Not only have the Bulldogs been shut out twice in succession, in neither game did The Citadel snap the ball in the opponent’s “red zone”.  The closest the Bulldogs have come to the opposing end zone in the last two games?  In the Georgia Southern game, The Citadel reached the GSU 23-yard line before fumbling.  Against Wofford, the deepest penetration was the Terrier 38-yard line, which is where The Citadel was when the game ended.

I didn’t understand why the Bulldogs did not make an effort to run more plays at the game’s end, to be honest.  Why not at least try to score?  What did they have to lose?  I was disappointed in that.

I was disappointed in a lot of things…

From Jeff Hartsell’s notes column on the game:

The Bulldogs also put freshman Ben Dupree in at quarterback for the first time since the season opener against Chowan. Dupree, who had been playing at slotback, ran nine times for a net of three yards.

“Just trying to get something to jump-start the offense,” Higgins said. “In practice, when Ben’s in there, he usually breaks one or two for 50-plus yards. He did some things, but also put the ball on the ground, too.”

I’ve got to ask…if he has been breaking “one or two for 50-plus yards” in practice, why wasn’t he put in the game at quarterback in other games?  Is there any particular reason a potential big-play threat wouldn’t have been useful against Georgia Southern, or Chattanooga, or Western Carolina?

The quarterback rotation in the game against Wofford was curious.  Matt Thompson started, was replaced by Dupree, who was replaced by Thompson, who gave way to Sam Martin.

This might not be exactly right, so I apologize if I’m off by a play or two, but I think the rotation went like this:  Thompson for two series (six plays), followed by Dupree for three series (fifteen plays), followed by Thompson for seven series (twenty-five plays), followed by Martin for two series (sixteen plays).

The Citadel managed only 143 yards of total offense.  About half of that came during the last two series of the contest; Martin was in the game for both.  That’s not to say he was necessarily playing better than the other two quarterbacks (after all, Wofford wasn’t playing many of its starters by that time), but the team did move the ball a little bit when he was in the game.

The defense turned in a respectable performance.  It did allow two long scoring drives, but otherwise held up its end of the bargain.  It has to be tough to constantly defend on your side of the field.  Wofford’s average starting position on its offensive possessions was its own 44-yard line (although that’s better than last week, when GSU’s average drive started on The Citadel’s 40-yard line).

Eric Clanton and Tolu Akindele were noticeably active (Akindele forced two fumbles). Rod Harland led the team with ten tackles.

Everyone knew this wasn’t going to be the easiest of seasons, not with the transition to the triple option offense.  I think what is most frustrating, though, is that Bulldog fans really haven’t seen that much of the triple option in action.

Instead, they’ve seen constant problems with the exchanges between the quarterback and the center, and the quarterback and the fullback.  It’s as if the play never develops, and the result is the quarterback being tackled for a three-yard loss, or a fumble, or both.

In addition, when The Citadel attempts a pass it is more often than not a “cover your eyes” situation.

On to Elon.  It’s Homecoming.  My advice to alums returning for their reunions: concentrate on the tailgating.

Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.

Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

Time and Place:  6:00 pm ET, Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Television:  a tape-delayed broadcast on a local cable channel called MTN-18 that really needs to improve its website

This will be only the second Saturday night game played in Boone since 2001.  I gather that many of the Mountaineer fans wanted a night game; why you would want one in the mountains in mid-October, I have no idea, but their wish has been granted.  Appalachian State also played a Saturday night game against Presbyterian two years ago.

Note that I specified “Saturday night”.  In the last three seasons, the Mountaineers have played two Friday night games in Boone, one a I-AA semifinal against Richmond, the other a regular season game against Wofford televised (unfortunately for Wofford) on ESPN2.  So a night game in Boone isn’t a novelty; it’s just a little unusual.

This preview is a fairly short one, because I am in the middle of a busy stretch that includes some travel.  Among other things, that means I won’t be able to even listen to the dulcet tones of Darren Goldwater on the radio.  I won’t find out how the game went until late Saturday night.  I can probably make a decent guess as to how it will go, though.

Just a few brief observations, while I have a few minutes:

— Appalachian State is ranked #1 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and The Sports Network poll.  The last time The Citadel defeated the top-ranked I-AA team, it was 1988, and the opponent was Marshall.  That is still the most “electric” atmosphere for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I have attended.

The upset on that sunny afternoon was keyed by an outstanding performance by the Bulldog defense.  To stay competitive on Saturday night, The Citadel will need a similar effort from its defensive unit.

— Sam Martin was hurt during the Chattanooga game.  This excerpt from Jeff Hartsell’s Tuesday report in The Post and Courier concerned me:

…early in the second quarter, Martin got hit by Mocs tackle Nick Davison and another player. He got to his feet and called a timeout, to Higgins’ consternation.

“I said, ‘Sam, why did you call a timeout?’ ” Higgins said at his Monday news conference. “He said, ‘Coach, I couldn’t see anything.’ So we got him off the field, and I determined it was a concussion. I’m not sure if that is what our medical staff is calling it, but we didn’t put him back in the game. He was doing fine after the game.

“We’ll keep giving him tests, but (Sunday) he was fine, (Monday) he was fine. I think he will be OK and we’ll get him practicing this week.”

Okay, a couple of things:

1)  Kevin Higgins has considerable coaching expertise, but I’ll go with the medical staff’s determination on whether or not a player has a concussion.

2)  If he really suffered a concussion, he wouldn’t be practicing.

As to what really happened to Martin during the UTC game, I have no idea.  I’m no doctor.  It sounded a little bit like what happened to Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist during the Irish’s game against Michigan State, though.  Crist was reportedly diagnosed with an “ocular migraine”.  He left that game, but later returned (and played very well).

I might add that we are less likely to find out these days exactly what a player’s medical condition is/was due to privacy laws, and I think that’s a good thing.  I also have full confidence in our medical/training staff.

— Alex Sellars tore his ACL and is done for the year.  It’s been a tough season for the fifth-year senior, who had previously suffered from back problems.  He had some outstanding moments for the Bulldogs during his career; it’s a shame there apparently won’t be any more on the field.

— Armanti Edwards is now a Carolina Panther, meaning that in terms of success, he’s gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.  He gets paid better to stay in the outhouse, though.

— His successor, DeAndre Presley, has already been named SoCon offensive player of the week three times this season, including last week against Elon, when he amassed 374 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns.  Presley has yet to throw an interception this season in 118 attempts.

Presley was injured late in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday.

— The Mountaineers’ offensive line has remained intact through all five games so far this season.  Four of those five linemen also started every game last year, and the fifth (Daniel Kilgore) started on the line for every game in 2008.

— Speaking of experience, Appalachian State has three receivers (Matt Cline, CoCo Hillary, and big-play threat Brian Quick) who seem to have been playing for the Mountaineers since the late 1990s.

— As you can see, Appalachian State had lots of starters on offense coming back, save the quarterback position, and Presley obviously has made the transition from Edwards fairly seamless.  However, the Mountaineers have some new faces on defense, and that’s been a bit of a problem (at least, as big a problem as an undefeated team could have).

Appalachian State is allowing 254 passing yards per game and 381 total yards per contest, both below-average numbers.  However, its average points allowed per game (23.8) isn’t as bad as those peripheral statistics.  App State games are like track meets, and opponents find it difficult to keep up.  No lead is safe, either, as Chattanooga found out (ASU prevailing 42-41 after scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter).

— In last year’s game against the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs just missed pulling off a big upset (30-27, OT).  What The Citadel did well in that game was run the football, compiling 214 yards rushing while in a spread attack, including one of the more spectacular runs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD).

The Bulldogs will need more than 214 yards rushing to compete with App State on Saturday, at least as long as the offense continues to average less than 60 yards passing per game.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s 247.7 ypg rushing is actually less than ASU’s (264.6 ypg).

— Appalachian State has already had ten different players score offensive touchdowns this season.  Five of those players have scored three TDs or more (Presley has eight).

— If the Mountaineers punt, don’t be confused when you hear Sam Martin’s name mentioned.  That’s the name of the ASU punter, no relation (I’m guessing) to the Bulldog quarterback.

— You may have read that Appalachian State is going to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of moving up to FBS (I-A).  Of course, just last year fellow Southern Conference member Georgia Southern commissioned its own study on the topic, which I wrote about (probably too extensively) here.

In general, I am skeptical about schools moving up to FBS land; while fans and administrators dream of being the next Boise State, the truth is most schools are much more likely to become the next Louisiana-Monroe.  However, I can understand why App State is exploring the terrain.

It’s a strange time right now in the world of FCS.  The CAA is a good example.  Villanova is the reigning FCS champ, but has an offer to move to I-A and the Big East.  Two league schools (Hofstra and Northeastern) dropped the sport last year.  Georgia State and Old Dominion are now fielding teams and will join the league.  Rhode Island is considering a move to the Northeast Conference (motto:  we’re cheaper).

That’s just one league.  Back in the not-so-gentle world of the Southern Conference, it wasn’t that long ago the league included East Tennessee State, VMI, and Marshall.  Things change, and it’s important to evaluate things once in a while.  After all, as recently as 1995, The Citadel studied I-A as a possible option.

I think Appalachian State is marginally better positioned to move to FBS than Georgia Southern.  However, I greatly suspect that the feasibility study will show that ASU should stay right where it is, which I think would satisfy most of its fan base.  However, if “right where it is” were to no longer exist, the school should have a better idea of what its options are.

There won’t be a specific review post of the Appalachian State game on the blog next week.  Writing the preview of the Georgia Southern game is going to be enough of a struggle as it is; I’ll undoubtably take a look back at the ASU game as part of that preview.  The TV schedule post will still happen, possibly a day later than normal.

Go Dogs!

Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

I’ll begin this post with what may become an annual riff on UTC nomenclature.  As I noted last year, trying to determine what to call the athletic teams of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga isn’t the simplest thing in the world to do:

Recently the school began using a ‘C’ mark, for “Chattanooga”.  The university’s teams have variously been referred to over the years as “UT-Chattanooga”, “Tennessee-Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Chattanooga”.

The nickname/mascot history is even more tangled.  A “moccasin” used to be a snake, then a shoe, then a cartoon Cherokee Indian called ‘Chief Moccanooga’, and now a mockingbird train conductor (and “moccasin” has morphed into “moc”, for mockingbird).

There is an explanatory page on the school’s website detailing some of the nickname history.

I’ve actually made a change from last year in how I am referring to the school.  While the school itself is still called the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, it is now consistently calling its athletic teams “Chattanooga” while still using the “UTC” acronym.  Therefore, I’ll drop the “UT-Chattanooga” usage.

Irrelevant but semi-interesting:  while surfing UTC’s website (the main one, not the athletics site) I found out that UTC was actually a private school until 1969, when it merged with the University of Tennessee.  Between 1889 and 1907, it was called U.S. Grant University.

Both UTC and The Citadel have had football programs that have been in the doldrums for a decade or more.  However, the Mocs appear poised to finally move up the ladder in the Southern Conference, under the direction of Russ Huesman.  Huesman inherited a program that had gone 1-11 in the year before he arrived.  In 2009, his first year at the helm, the Mocs improved to 6-5.

This season Chattanooga is 2-2, after losing its first two games to Appalachian State and Jacksonville State, both currently ranked in the FCS Top 5.  The Mocs rebounded with victories over Eastern Kentucky and Western Carolina, the latter game played in Cullowhee.

Those two losses may have excited the UTC fan base more than the two wins, as both were close games against quality opponents.  Chattanooga led Appalachian State 28-7 at halftime before the Mountaineers scored 28 fourth-quarter points to take a 7-point lead.  The Mocs scored what would have been the tying touchdown with under a minute to play, but Huesman elected to go for two.  It didn’t work, and Appalachian State escaped Finley Stadium with a victory.

Chattanooga also led Jacksonville State 17-7 entering the fourth quarter, only for the Gamecocks to respond with 14 fourth-quarter points.  JSU’s game-winning TD came on a 72-yard pass play with 1:16 remaining.  That game, played in Alabama, came one week after Jacksonville State’s stunning win over Mississippi.

UTC’s 42-24 victory over EKU included 548 yards of total offense, including 375 yards passing (4 TDs) from B.J. Coleman and 122 yards rushing from Erroll Wynn.

Against Western Carolina, the Mocs turned the ball over four times, one of those being a fumble returned for a touchdown (Chattanooga lost three fumbles overall).  UTC was also burned by a wide receiver pass for a TD, but prevailed 27-21 in part because the Mocs D forced four turnovers of its own.

Speaking of Coleman (a transfer from Tennessee), you may remember him from last year’s game, in which The Citadel blew a 15-point lead.  During the UTC rally, the Mocs went to a no-huddle offense, and the Bulldogs never stopped it, despite the fact Chattanooga could not run the ball.  Coleman somehow threw 61 passes without being sacked, and was only “hurried” once.

Obviously, The Citadel has to turn that around on Saturday, but it won’t be easy.  For one thing, UTC appears to actually have a running game now, with senior Erroll Wynn averaging exactly 100 yards per game in three games (he didn’t play against App State).  That should take a lot of pressure off Coleman, who is averaging almost nine yards per pass attempt and has thrown 10 TD passes (against only 3 interceptions).

Chattanooga doesn’t seem to be missing Coleman’s main target from last season, Blue Cooper, all that much, as Joel Bradford has already caught 30 passes and is averaging over 126 yards receiving per game (nearly 17 yards per reception). Bradford is also a fine punt returner.

Other than the fourth-quarter problems against Appy and JSU, the Mocs D has played well, holding both EKU and WCU to less than 60 yards rushing and forcing eleven turnovers in its last three games, including nine interceptions.  Four of the picks were made by freshman Kadeem Wise.

Defensive end Chris Donald is another Tennessee transfer making an impact for the Mocs.  He has 4.5 sacks so far this season.  UTC is currently ninth in the country against the run.  One reason for that is linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who is averaging almost eleven tackles per game.

You may have seen Jeff Hartsell’s breakdown of The Citadel’s recent recruiting classes on “Bulldog Bites”.  Just for comparison, here is the two-deep from The Citadel’s playoff game against North Carolina A&T in 1992.  I could be wrong about a couple of these guys, but I should have most of this right.  The number by a player’s name is the year he entered The Citadel (for instance, Jack Douglas entered in the fall of 1988, hence “88”).

QB — Jack Douglas (88) and CJ Haynes (90)

FB — Everette Sands (89) and Travis Jervey (91)

LHB — Erick Little (90) and Terrance Rivers (90)

RHB — Cedric Sims (89) and Undra Mitchem (90)

TE — Marty Fagan (88) and Greg Perry (89, and originally a walk-on)

WR — Cornell Caldwell (89) and Damond Boatwright (90)

LT — David Morelli (88) and Doug Cobarras (89)

LG — Shayne Stephens (89) and Levi Davis (90)

C — Brett Copeland (88) and Bart Hearn (91 walk-on, I think)

RG — Lance Hansen (88) and Scott Reagan (89)

RT — Carey Cash (88) and Mike Wilkerson (91)

PK — Jeff Trinh (91)

DE — Garrett Sizer (89) and Ed McFarland (89, and originally a walk-on)

DE — Judson Boehmer (89) and Brad Keeney (92)

RT — LaQuincy Powell  (89, and yet another walk-on from that class), Todd Lair (91, maybe a walkon; not sure)

LT — Jake Erhard (89) and Lenny Clark (91)

LB — Micah Young (91) and Jim Wilson (88)

LB — Rob Briggs (89) and Tracey Gamble (90)

LB — Mike Wideman (89) and Kendall McKnight (90)

LCB — Torrency Forney (89) and Chauncey Chappelle (92)

RCB — Detric Cummings (90) and Corey Gay (90)

SS — Dan Johnson (89) and Ahren Self (91)

FS — Lester Smith (88) and Speizio Stowers (89)

P — Eric Willingham (88)

The return specialists were all part of the offense-defense two-deep.  Sizer was the long snapper.

46 players —

9 fifth-year seniors (including Douglas, Smith, and Cash)

17 players from the ’89 recruiting class, including three walk-ons

10 from the ’90 recruiting class

8 from the ’91 recruiting class

2 “true” freshmen

One quick note on the above:  the 1991 recruiting class was actually rather thin; only two other scholarship members of that class would contribute in future seasons. Whether that “lost class” was a key factor in the eventual decline in The Citadel’s gridiron fortunes is hard to say, although it certainly didn’t help.

I had plenty to say about the loss to Western Carolina last week, and about some things that rather obviously need to improve.  I’ll add a little to what I already mentioned, and note a couple of other things:

— I was glad to see that Kevin Higgins acknowledged the poor play of the secondary against WCU (you can read about his press conference here and here).  Watching the lack of ball awareness was excruciating.

— He also addressed game-planning for opposing defenses, explaining what he feels the issues are.  I suspect that this wouldn’t be as big a problem if the Bulldogs were in Year 3 or Year 4 of the triple option.

Teams that have run an option attack for a long time, like Navy or Air Force or Wofford, generally force the opponents to adjust to them, not the other way around.  That’s because their players have been in the system long enough to recognize different defensive looks, and understand basically (if not always specifically) what each person’s job is when facing a certain setup.

Having said that, I was a little concerned that Higgins seemed confident in what Russ Huesman’s defense will probably do on Saturday.  He’s basing that on what Huesman has done in the past against the option, but the Mocs have had a week off and presumably a lot more time to put in new things.  What if UTC comes out in a defensive formation for which the Bulldogs aren’t prepared?  Another lost half for The Citadel’s offense?

— Amidst all the talk about changing quarterbacks, his decision to change placekickers has seemingly gone under the radar.

— About those quarterbacks…

I’ll be honest.  I don’t care which quarterback starts.  If Higgins thinks Sam Martin starting might jump-start the team in the opening quarter, then by all means run him out there.  The bottom line is that both Martin and Matt Thompson are going to play, and they’re both going to play about the same number of plays — at least, that’s the plan.

Martin has looked more comfortable in the offense than Thompson, but he hasn’t been that much better.  We’re not talking about the second coming of a healthy Jamelle Holieway here.  At this point, we don’t know if we’re talking about the second coming of a healthy Brendan Potts (which would be okay by me).

Neither Martin nor Thompson has mastered the center/QB exchange (to be fair, neither have the centers).  Thompson seems to still struggle with the “mesh”, and should also heed the advice of John Wooden — be quick but don’t hurry.  However, he’s a true freshman with some obvious talent, and he deserves a chance to show what he can do (as does Martin).  This is, as I’ve said before, a transition season, although not everyone seems to understand that.

While leaving the stadium on Saturday after the WCU game, I overheard a Bulldog fan say, in a non-ironic way, that the loss to the Catamounts meant “we won’t go to the playoffs now.”  You don’t say…

One thing both quarterbacks must improve (and for that matter, their receiving corps): the Bulldogs currently have a pass completion rate of 35.4%.  While The Citadel doesn’t throw the ball a lot in this offense, it has to do better than that.  Completing less than 36% of your pass attempts is just horrendous.  If that percentage holds up, it would be the lowest completion percentage for a Bulldog squad since 1965.  Care to guess how many games that 1965 team won?

Two.

The Bulldogs will be Underdogs on Saturday, and deservedly so.  However, I’ll close this post by pointing out that there is hope for the game against UTC:

1)  Chattanooga, while improved, hasn’t really proven that it’s made a move to the next level in the Southern Conference, at least not yet.  Those two games against Appalachian State and Jacksonville State were both impressive in a lot of ways, but they were also both losses.  Last year The Citadel also lost a close game to Appalachian State at home, in overtime.  It did not lead to a winning season.

I’m not quite ready to buy stock in a team which to this point in the season has only beaten Eastern Kentucky (which has just one win on the season) and Western Carolina.

2)  The Bulldog offense may continue to struggle, but I find it hard to believe that the defense (particularly the DBs) will have two consecutive clunkers.  I think there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and sometime (hopefully soon) it will begin to show. Also, there is something to be said for regression to the mean.

We’ll find out Saturday.

Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Presbyterian

Gametime:  7 pm ET, at Johnson Hagood Stadium

TV:  Uh, that would be a no.

The final non-conference game of the season for The Citadel is a matchup with in-state foe Presbyterian, a traditional opponent from days gone by, but now back on the schedule for a second consecutive year after an absence of almost two decades.  I wrote about the series history in my preview for last year’s contest, for anyone interested.

With the Bulldogs’ 46-21 victory in 2009, The Citadel now holds a commanding 49-11-1 lead in the series, including a 27-3 mark at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which has been the site for every game between The Citadel and PC since 1950 save one (a 1963 contest played in Savannah; I’m not sure why).  The Blue Hose last defeated the Bulldogs in 1979; since then, The Citadel has won eleven straight games in the series.

Tangent:  Last year’s preview includes links to some photos taken by Life magazine in 1955; a reporter for the weekly was on campus to write a story about Mark Clark’s new job as president of the school.  He was joined by a staff photographer, who took a lot of photos of cadet life, including a series of shots of the Homecoming football game against PC (none of which were used in the article).

I don’t have a copy of the issue (it’s from November 28 of that year), but from what I can tell, the actual feature on Clark is only about two pages in length.  I’m amazed at how many photographs were taken for such a short piece.  I’m glad they were taken, though; as a whole, they’re fascinating.   If you want to surf Google’s archive for the 1955 Clark/The Citadel Life photos (albeit while wading through some pictures not related to the military college), go here.

The road to FCS status has not been an easy one for the Blue Hose.  As recently as 2005, Presbyterian won the (Division II) South Atlantic Conference with a 10-2 overall record, the first conference title for PC since winning the SAC in 1979 (coincidentally, the last time the Blue Hose beat the Bulldogs).  However, as Presbyterian has made the transition from D-2 to FCS, the win-loss record has naturally declined, leading to last season’s 0-11 record.

Those eleven losses included only one game in which PC lost by less than seven points, a 41-37 setback against Coastal Carolina in Conway, which is also the team/locale of the Blue Hose’s last road victory (in October of 2007).  Presbyterian has lost 16 straight games overall, and has also lost 16 consecutive road games.  PC opened the 2010 campaign with two “automatic” losses, to Wake Forest and Clemson, by a combined score of 111-34.

Having noted all that recent gridiron misery for the Blue Hose, it would not be a shock if Presbyterian defeats The Citadel on Saturday.  Disappointing, yes, and perhaps a bit surprising, but not a shock.

Presbyterian hung around in last season’s game against the Bulldogs for the better part of three quarters, and now The Citadel will have to compete while continuing to work the kinks out of a brand-new offense that struggled at times against Chowan, to say nothing of Arizona.  It’s exactly the kind of situation that would give a team like Presbyterian hope.

After all, PC moved the ball on The Citadel’s defense last year, including 204 yards rushing.  Trandon Dendy was responsible for 147 of those rushing yards, and he’s back this year.  Joining him on the Blue Hose offense is Michael Ruff, who caught two touchdown passes last week against Clemson, and who also caught a TD pass on this much-seen trick play against Wake Forest.

PC won’t be afraid to throw some more “trickeration” The Citadel’s way, so the Bulldog defense needs to be prepared.  I do wonder if the Blue Hose might have been better off saving some of their best stuff for a more competitive game.  The fake against Wake was a great play, but even with it PC still lost by 40.  On the other hand, you’re probably not going to make SportsCenter if you run the play in an untelevised game.

Last year I wrote that against Presbyterian, the defensive line was occasionally  “pushed around by an offensive line that included a 258-lb. left tackle and a 240-lb. center.”  That won’t happen this year…because PC’s offensive line is much heavier. The starting center for the Blue Hose weighs 260 lbs., and the left side of the o-line averages 297 lbs.  So far, this year’s edition of The Citadel’s defensive front has shown a lot of potential.  It better show more than potential this Saturday.

The challenge for the Bulldog offense is to have the same type of production against PC it had last season, but without Andre Roberts.  The Blue Hose had no answer for Roberts, who caught 12 passes for 184 yards and 4 TDs against Presbyterian.  Andre won’t be in Charleston on Saturday; he’ll be in Atlanta, preparing to (hopefully) make his NFL debut with the Arizona Cardinals the next day.

Which player will (or should) be running Saturday’s offensive attack has been a subject of interest.  Kevin Higgins has announced that Matt Thompson will again get the call as the starter at QB, which I think is fine.  Thompson did struggle against Arizona, but that was Arizona — he’s not the only guy who struggled.  Sam Martin did do a fine job running the triple option when he entered the game in the third quarter, and should see his share of time too.

Really, at this point it doesn’t matter much who starts.  Both should play, both will probably get plenty of work, and in this transition season, anointing a permanent starting quarterback strikes me as probably a waste of time and possibly counter-productive.  I was a little surprised that Game 1 starter Ben Dupree was so quickly moved to slotback, but I gather that the coaching staff wants him on the field, regardless of position.  I also wouldn’t be all that surprised if Dupree is still in the mix at QB, even with the switch.

Things on offense that must continue to improve include the perimeter blocking, the center-QB exchange (something that affected both Thompson and Martin, despite Martin not actually losing a fumble), the pitch plays (both QBs threw some scary pitches, especially Thompson, with one of his resulting in a lost fumble), and the pass catching.  In this offense, you really can’t afford to drop passes, because there aren’t many reception opportunities as it is, and they tend to be big plays when successfully completed.

I would like to see more “playmaking” from the back seven, particularly the linebackers.  Other things that need to improve on defense include the tackling, which was better against Arizona but still not optimal (the Wildcats’ first TD came after Juron Criner gained an additional 20 yards following a missed tackle), and assignment pickups (with the DBs missing some reads against Chowan).

A few other random observations not related to the actual play on the field:

– I noticed during the Arizona game that the coach who sends in the offensive signals on the sideline wears a red shirt, presumably to make him easier for the QBs to see. He was wearing a plain Nike shirt; given that The Citadel is trying to push “Big Red” apparel, maybe the coach could wear a Big Red polo shirt instead.  Just a thought.

– Speaking of Big Red, The Citadel is going to have a “red out” at Homecoming.  Now, Arizona is having a “red out” against Iowa this Saturday, which should go well, since red is one of Arizona’s colors and Iowa wears black and gold.  I’m not necessarily criticizing The Citadel’s administration for the basic idea behind the “red out”, given the aforementioned push for Big Red, but as it happens the Bulldogs’ opponent for Homecoming is Elon.  The primary school color for the Phoenix is…red.

I don’t believe enough thought was put into that decision.

– Against Chowan, The Citadel introduced a new cartoon mascot, apparently to replace the shako-wearing Spike.  Here is a photo of the “new” Spike (if he is actually being called Spike; I’m not sure about that):  Link

There have already been complaints about the “look” of the new mascot, which has floppier ears than the old one, and of course does not wear the shako.  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the shako may have been a bit problematic when it came to wear and tear.

I don’t think the new mascot really looks like a rabbit, as was suggested in that thread I linked above, but I do think that if that’s going to be the new cartoon image, then The Citadel probably needs to adjust its mascot “mark” accordingly.  It should be consistent.  Of course, consistency has never been a hallmark of The Citadel’s logos/marks/branding history; it’s almost as bad as the school’s lack of stability in its football uniform history.

Ultimately, of course, my opinion about the new mascot doesn’t matter, and the same is true for any other alumnus.  That’s because the cartoon mascot isn’t intended to entertain the alums; it’s there for their kids.  If your typical five-year-old likes the mascot, then it’s good enough for The Citadel.  Adults are supposed to be entertained by good cut-block technique and superior tailgating.

Presbyterian will certainly be up for this game, as it represents a very real chance to break its long losing skid.  If the Bulldogs were to lose to PC, it would be the beginning of a very long season.  However, I am hopeful that the offense can generate enough points to avoid the upset, and I suspect the defense will be more than ready to assert itself.

I’ll be very curious about the attendance, what with Clemson (on TV) and South Carolina (at home) playing at the same time as The Citadel.  The weather should be more conducive to watching football than it was for Chowan, at least (please, no more 1 pm starts in early September).

Go Dogs!

Review: Arizona

Well, it was about what I expected.

Arizona is probably a better-than-average Pac-10 team, possibly a contender in that league (although Oregon has to be the favorite).  The Wildcats did what top-25 FBS teams are supposed to do when playing an outmanned FCS squad.

I don’t believe in moral victories, but I do believe in looking at the positive side of things when it’s warranted.  Some points in The Citadel’s favor:

1.  It wasn’t a complete debacle.  I was worried that even if The Citadel were not completely overmatched, the nascent offensive system would turn the ball over repeatedly and give Arizona a bunch of easy points.  Other than a couple of mini-stretches late in the first half and early in the second, however, that didn’t happen.  52-6 may not look that great, but it’s a lot better than 82-6.

2.  Apparently the Bulldogs came out of the game relatively unscathed.  Kevin Higgins mentioned Alex Carr and Tolu Akindele had been banged up in his press conference, but he didn’t rule any player out for the game against Presbyterian.

Two players Higgins didn’t mention but who I wondered about (in terms of injuries) were Johnathan Glaspie and Tyler Starnes, both of whom took big hits during the game.  Glaspie actually re-entered the game after taking a shot earlier in the contest.  (Judging from his expression as he walked off the field, I wasn’t sure he knew if he was in Tucson or still playing for Spring Valley High School.)  Starnes got somersaulted on a carry near the end of the game; it’s a wonder he didn’t suffer a serious leg injury.

— Edit:  According to Jeff Hartsell, Higgins did mention Starnes in his Monday presser.

3.  The defensive line was solid.  The Bulldogs appear to have found a potential star in Derek Douglas, who was singled out for praise by Higgins, and deservedly so.  He wasn’t the only lineman to make a play or two in the game, though.  I particularly liked the lick Erik Clanton laid on one unsuspecting Wildcat running back.  Of course, it helps when nobody blocks you…

4.  Sam Martin did a nice job running the offense when he entered the game.  I went back and noted who was in the game for Arizona on defense when Martin began his first drive.  The Wildcats had nine of their eleven defensive starters in the game, plus two other players who were in their regular rotation on the line.  In other words, he wasn’t playing against walk-ons when he led The Citadel to its first score.

5.  Although he didn’t throw the ball real well and didn’t have much luck moving the team, Matt Thompson never seemed to panic and maintained his poise.

6.  I agree with Higgins that the tackling was better against Arizona.  However, I think it still needs improvement.

7.  Terrell Dallas showed flashes of what he’s capable of accomplishing in this offense, which is a lot.

8.  The Citadel got an encouraging performance from its special teams units.  Cass Couey had an excellent game.  I bet he enjoyed punting in the desert air.  Sam Keeler made both of his field goal attempts; I hope that will improve his confidence.  The coverage teams did a nice job, and freshman Terrance Martin established himself as The Citadel’s primary kick returner.

9.  The Bulldogs only committed two penalties for a total of nine yards, my favorite statistic from the game.  More of that, please.

Obviously, there were negatives unrelated to the competition that need to be addressed.  Some of those for the offense would be the center-QB exchange, the pitch techniques, and the dropped passes (hopefully an anomaly).  The defense must continue to concentrate on tackling, and the back seven must show more dynamism.

There are more observations to make about what will (or should) happen going forward, of course.  I’ll try to mention those in my preview of the Presbyterian game.