2018 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. VMI

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

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

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

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

The News and Courier, October 12, 1930

 

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

The game will be streamed on ESPN3, and is also available via ESPN College Extra. Wade Branner will handle play-by-play, while Chip Tarkenton supplies the analysis. 

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

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier [link when available]

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

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

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

Brent Thompson would like one play back from the ETSU game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Keydets’ 52-50 loss at Western Carolina, Udinski was 43 for 72 for 491 passing yards, all school records. He also threw four touchdown passes in that contest. The following week, Udinski threw for 435 yards against Mercer. Two weeks, 925 passing yards. Not bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

Chattanooga is off this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the ETSU game. There are a few changes, however. Kyler Estes appears on the depth chart at the “KAT” position. Also, Sean-Thomas Faulkner is now officially listed as the starter in the “Bandit” role.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This game is important. This game matters.

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

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

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

2017 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. VMI

…The Citadel came from behind twice in the fourth quarter against a VMI team that literally fought and clawed in an attempt to avoid its seventh loss in eight games and spoil the heavily favored Bulldogs’ championship hopes.

VMI, with its aggressive play, succeeded in making what happened while the clock was running a sidelight to the after-the-whistle skirmishes — even a fight that put a player from each team on the sidelines for the game. The two teams were penalized a total of 21 times for 183 yards.

The visiting Keydets’ strategy worked well. With 8:59 to play, they took a 24-20 lead, getting together an 80-yard drive that was capped by sophomore tailback Trent Bridges’ third touchdown of the day, a one-yard dive.

That put the pressure squarely on the shoulders of Citadel quarterback Robert Hill…

…Hill and flanker Lee Glaze combined for 17- and 49-yard pass plays on the game-winning drive, the 17-yarder coming on 3rd-and-15 from The Citadel 12-yard line and Glaze taking the ball away from a VMI defender on the 49-yard completion.

Hill scrambled for nine yards and a first down to the VMI four. Two running plays by Mike Lewis covered the four yards, the touchdown coming on a one-yard plunge into the middle with 4:47 left to play.

VMI still had time in the Military Classic of the South, [but] The Citadel defense rose to the occasion, twice intercepting passes by VMI quarterback Jim Daly. Scott Thompson, a 260-pound sophomore defensive tackle, got the first interception on a deflected pass that Daly threw to avoid being sacked. Sophomore linebacker Joel Thompson made the game-clinching interception with a minute to play.

The News and Courier, November 4, 1984

The Citadel vs. Virginia Military Institute, The Military Classic of the South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 28, 2017.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kendall Lewis will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs linebacker James Riley supplies the analysis. 

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2017 Affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/95.9FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

Game preview, The Post and Courier

– Where is the coveted Silver Shako?

Noah Dawkins: more sacks than the Visigoths

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– FCS Coaches’ poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked #32 if the poll went that far)

– STATS FCS poll (The Citadel is receiving votes, and would be ranked in a tie for #34 if the poll went that far)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/24 press conference, including comments from Grant Drakeford and Aron Spann III (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/25 radio show (video)

– Promo for VMI-The Citadel (video)

– Review/highlights/postgame package for VMI’s game versus Western Carolina

– ESPN3 replay of Western Carolina-VMI (video)

Game story from the Western Carolina-VMI contest

– My review of last week’s game against Chattanooga

Link to ESPN3’s streaming coverage of VMI-The Citadel

Non-football links:

– Don’t forget to meet the Bulldog hoopsters at the game on Saturday; posters and three-point shotmaking to be had

– Caroline Cashion: “I want to play again”

Homecoming Week is here, with all the traditional activities associated with it. The schedule: Link

Since 1953, VMI has been the Homecoming opponent for The Citadel 15 times. The Bulldogs are 11-4 in those games, winning the last five matchups. The most recent such contest came just two years ago, with The Citadel prevailing 35-14.

In that time period, the only team The Citadel has faced more often on Homecoming is Furman (16 meetings). Therefore, this week the Keydets will tie the Paladins for most Homecoming appearances by an opponent at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

It should be noted that there were Homecoming games prior to 1953. Furman was the opponent for the first such recorded contest, in 1924. The 1953 season just happens to be the starting point for tracking certain statistical and historical information in The Citadel’s record book.

In 2018, The Citadel’s Homecoming game will take place on November 10, and the opponent will be Samford.

This is the earliest meeting during the season between VMI and The Citadel since 1991. That year, the game was played on October 26, and was held at the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia. The Bulldogs defeated the Keydets 17-14 that afternoon.

When the series began, the two schools usually met in mid-October. After World War II, however, the matchup shifted to early-to-mid-November.

Beginning in the late 1960s, the game moved to a mid-season date (usually in October). That status continued until the late 1980s, when the series again became a (mostly) late-season clash.

In 1978, The Citadel defeated VMI 14-3 on September 23 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That is the only time the matchup has ever been played in September. The latest in the year the contest has been held? 2005, when The Citadel won 22-14 at Foster Stadium in Lexington; that season, the game was played on November 19.

VMI has played Virginia Tech 79 times, which is actually more often than the Keydets have played The Citadel (72 times). However, the Hokies have not met VMI on the gridiron since 1984.

That will change in 2026, when the two schools are scheduled to meet again. VMI also has scheduled games with North Carolina State (2023) and Virginia (2020).

Virginia is another school that VMI has played many times (82 times, to be exact). The Keydets have also had long-running series with William and Mary (87 meetings) and Richmond (86), though neither of those schools has appeared on VMI’s schedule in the last few years.

Next year, VMI has scheduled non-conference matchups at Toledo and at Old Dominion. The Keydets reportedly will also play at Gardner-Webb.

In 2019, VMI has non-conference games at Army and at Marshall.

Fast mascot/nickname facts about VMI:

– Why is VMI’s mascot a kangaroo? Shouldn’t it be a rat?

Back in 1947, two VMI cheerleaders saw a picture of a kangaroo on the front of the magazine and realized how uncommon the animal was as a mascot. As one of the mascots was finally procured, a contest was held to give the creature an appropriate name. The prize winning name was “TD Bound.”

Later the name of the mascot was changed to Moe, because A) Moe wasn’t a football-specific name, and B) “TD Bound” was kind of dumb. VMI actually had a live animal mascot until the 1970s; one of the real-life animals was actually a wallaby and not a kangaroo. I guess the folks at VMI weren’t too picky about things like that (can’t say that I blame them).

– They weren’t always Keydets, whatever Keydets are…

In ancient days of yore the football team was known as the “Flying Squadron”. The Keydets moniker is only around 85 years old.

If you’re keeping track of old-timey nicknames for SoCon schools, here are a few:

  • VMI: Flying Squadron
  • Furman: Purple Hurricane
  • The Citadel: Light Brigade (this was a thing in the late 1930s-early 1940s, but it didn’t quite catch on)
  • Samford: Baptist Tigers
  • Western Carolina: Teachers (and later chose Catamounts over Mountain Boomers, an atrocious decision)

Scott Wachenheim’s first two teams at VMI won two and three games, respectively. His third squad is in danger of winning fewer than two games, which would make Wachenheim the latest Keydet coach to suffer through a one-win or winless season.

Wachenheim is VMI’s 11th head football coach since 1953. Of the ten men who preceded him in the position, all but one had at least one season in which the team went winless or won only a single game. The exception to that unforunate rule was Wachenheim’s immediate predecessor, Sparky Woods.

Woods won at least two games in all seven seasons he coached the Keydets. Admittedly, in five of those seasons (including the last four) his squads won exactly two games.

Conversely, The Citadel has had 14 head coaches over that same time period — and in none of those seasons (65 in all) have the Bulldogs failed to win at least two games.

VMI is 0-8 this season, and has lost 14 straight games going back to last year. That is now the longest active losing streak in FCS, as last week Delaware State (helmed by Kenny Carter, a graduate of The Citadel) broke a 17-game losing streak by stunning South Carolina State in Dover, 17-14.

The slate for VMI so far:

  • Air Force crushed VMI in Colorado Springs, 62-0; the Keydets only picked up six first downs
  • Catawba, a Division II school, upset the Keydets 27-20, scoring the game-winning TD with 42 seconds to play
  • Robert Morris then shut out VMI, 23-0, the first time RMU had shut out an opponent in seven years
  • VMI opened SoCon play by getting hammered by Chattanooga, 63-7
  • After an early pick-six for the Keydets, Mercer scored 35 straight points and beat VMI 49-14
  • Samford defeated VMI 26-7 in Lexington after allowing the Keydets to score on the game’s opening drive
  • Furman broke open a close game at halftime, beating VMI 42-10; the Paladins had 523 yards of total offense
  • Last week, Western Carolina won 26-7 at Alumni Field, matching the Samford-VMI score

VMI will not have a bye week this season, playing on eleven consecutive Saturdays. After this week, the Keydets travel to Johnson City to face East Tennessee State on November 4, and then will close out their 2017 campaign at home versus Wofford on November 11.

Statistics of note for VMI through eight games:

VMI Opponents
Points per game 8.1 39.8
Rushing yardage 694 1699
Average per rush 2.98 4.39
Average per game 86.8 212.4
TDs rushing 4 23
Passing yardage 1025 1992
Comp-Att-Int 109-218-15 140-223-4
Average per pass 4.7 8.9
TDs passing 3 17
Total offense 1719 3691
Total plays 451 610
Yards per play 3.8 6.1
Kick returns-yards 42-716 14-276
Punt returns-yards 10-65 22-205
Fumbles/lost 10/5 1/0
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 3.1/26.4 5.9/49.1
Net punt average 37.5 38.5
Time of possession/game 26:28 33:32
3rd down conversions 30/110 56/116
3rd down conversion rate 27.3% 48.3%
Sacks by-yards 16-119 18-129
Field goals-attempts 3-8 9-12
Red Zone touchdown rate 3-8 (37.5%) 26-39 (66.7%)
  • VMI is last in FCS in scoring offense
  • The Keydets are also last in offensive pass efficiency, in part because they lead the nation in passes intercepted
  • Offensively, VMI is 119th in third down conversion rate
  • VMI is 116th nationally in scoring defense, and 119th (out of 123 teams) in third down conversion rate allowed
  • The Keydets have not recovered a fumble on defense this season, and somehow have only forced one
  • In terms of turnover margin, VMI is next-to-last in FCS (ahead of only Bryant); the Keydets are -16 in that category
  • VMI’s net punt average is solid and ranks 28th nationally
  • The Keydets are the least-penalized team in FCS, as they have been called for only 3.1 infractions per game

The Citadel’s key stats through seven games:

The Citadel Opponents
Points per game 24.9 19.9
Rushing yardage 2166 783
Average per rush 5.07 3.75
Average per game 309.4 111.9
TDs rushing 17 12
Passing yardage 691 1307
Comp-Att-Int 40-95-3 106-179-10
Average per pass 7.3 7.3
TDs passing 6 7
Total offense 2857 2090
Total plays 522 388
Yards per play 5.5 5.4
Kick returns-yards 14-263 17-419
Punt returns-yards 11-83 6-53
Fumbles/lost 14/5 7/4
Avg penalties/penalty yards per game 4.4/38.4 3.1/31.6
Net punt average 36.1 37
Time of possession/game 34:54 25:06
3rd down conversions 51/111 24/73
3rd down conversion rate 45.9% 32.9%
Sacks by-yards 11-61 4-27
Field goals-attempts 4-8 2-4
Red Zone touchdown rate (20-29) 69.0% (13-17) 76.5%
  • The Citadel is 62nd nationally in scoring offense, and 24th in scoring defense
  • The Bulldogs are 14th in offensive third down conversion rate, and 24th in third down conversion rate allowed
  • At 42.1%, the Bulldogs’ pass completion rate is the lowest in FCS (out of 123 teams)
  • The Citadel’s kick return defense is 115th nationally (last week certainly didn’t help in this category)
  • The Bulldogs are 19th in turnover margin
  • Rush report: The Citadel is third in rushing offense and 22nd in defense against the rush
  • The Citadel is second nationally in time of possession (behind only McNeese State; two undefeated teams, Columbia and North Dakota State, rank third and fourth, respectively)
  • The Bulldogs are 11th in FCS in the “fewest penalties per game” category

VMI quarterbacks have thrown the football (or been sacked attempting to throw) on 52.3% of the offense’s plays from scrimmage this season. Counting sack yardage, 52.2% of VMI’s yardage has come via the pass, so the Keydets have been more or less the same in terms of effectiveness on the ground and in the air.

The current starting quarterback for VMI is Duncan Hodges (6’3″, 220 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Kimberly, Alabama. He is the younger brother of Samford QB Devlin Hodges.

For the season, Hodges is completing 53.0% of his throws, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt, with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has two rushing TDs.

VMI’s leading rusher is Daz Palmer (5’10”, 180 lbs.), a sophomore from Norfolk. He is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, with a long of 56 (which was a TD run against Catawba). He also had a 51-yard run versus Furman.

Palmer can also catch the ball out of the backfield — indeed, he had three receptions against The Citadel last season, including a 30-yarder. This year, Palmer has 18 catches, second-most on the team.

Sophomore wide receiver Rohan Martin (5’10”, 175 lbs.) has started all 19 games of his VMI career. He leads the Keydets in receptions this season, with 19. Martin had a 3-yard TD catch against Furman.

Martin also occasionally returns punts (and is listed in that role on this week’s depth chart). He had a 34-yard punt return earlier this season.

Javeon Lara (6’2″, 178 lbs.), a sophomore from Schulenburg, Texas, is a breakaway threat. The Citadel’s defense must be particularly wary of Lara, who had a 79-yard TD reception against Mercer and a 73-yard catch for a touchdown versus Chattanooga.

VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 272 lbs. The largest of the group is right tackle Sawaar Canady (6’5″, 290 lbs.). Canady, a native of Newport News, is one of three redshirt freshmen who start on the Keydets’ o-line.

VMI’s defense is led by senior Allan Cratsenberg (6’3″, 223 lbs.), a tackling machine from Natrona, Pennsylvania. Cratsenberg was a first-team All-SoCon pick by the media last season after averaging 11.5 stops per contest. That included a 20-tackle day against The Citadel, the first time this century a Keydet had been credited with 20 or more tackles in a game.

This season, Cratsenberg (described by Brent Thompson as “smart and savvy”) is again racking up stops, averaging 11 tackles per game (and leading the league). He has 35 combined tackles in VMI’s last two games.

Cratsenberg has added interceptions to his repertoire in 2017. He has three so far this year, including a 60-yard pick-six versus Mercer. That interception return for a touchdown, by the way, is the only time this season the Keydets have scored following an opposing turnover, either on a defensive return or on the ensuing offensive possession.

Fellow linebacker Brian Lipscomb (6’3″, 225 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Hampton, is having an outstanding season for the Keydets. Lipscomb leads the Southern Conference in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (7).

During his radio show, Brent Thompson had a lot of praise for Lipscomb, saying he has a “knack for the football [and] knows where to be. He is very athletic…he did a great job against us last year.”

Ryan Francis (6’1″, 215 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Knoxville, is tied for second on the team in tackles, with 73. The linebacker also has seven tackles for loss.

Safety Greg Sanders (5’11”, 195 lbs.) also has 73 stops for the Keydets. The native of Memphis had nine tackles against The Citadel in last season’s contest (and also recovered a fumble). Now a senior, the three-year starter was a second-team all-league selection last year.

VMI’s starting placekicker, Grant Clemons (6’2″, 185 lbs.), is 3 for 7 on field goal tries this season, with a long of 39 yards (accomplished twice, both against Catawba). Clemons, a sophomore who began his collegiate career at Georgia Military, also handles kickoffs for the Keydets.

Something worth watching on placekicks: holder Jake Paladino (6’1″, 205 lbs.) is a quarterback, and it would not be a major surprise if VMI attempted some trickery out of a field goal formation. Last season, in fact, Paladino played quarterback against The Citadel in a relief role, and the redshirt sophomore fared rather well (completing nine of thirteen passes for 100 yards and a TD).

Paladino can also punt, but VMI’s primary punter this season has been Bill Hogan (6’1″, 217 lbs.). The redshirt junior is in his second season as the regular at the position. He is averaging 43.4 yards per boot.

Six of Hogan’s 49 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line; one has been blocked.

Mason Dermott (5’8″, 167 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore in his second season as the kick return specialist for the Keydets. He had a 71-yard return last season against Chattanooga.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers, with an expected high of 78 degrees. The low on Saturday night will be 61 degrees, with a 70% chance of precipitation.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 26-point favorite over VMI. The over/under is 42.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 3-point favorite at Western Carolina; Samford is a 15-point favorite over Chattanooga; and Wofford is a 15.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State. Mercer is off this week.

Around the Palmetto State, Clemson is a 14.5-point favorite over Georgia Tech; South Carolina is a 7.5-point favorite against Vanderbilt; South Carolina State is a 2-point home underdog versus Howard; Coastal Carolina is an 8-point favorite over Texas State; Presbyterian is 12.5-point home underdog against Kennesaw State; and Charleston Southern (starving for a conference victory) is a 3-point favorite versus Monmouth.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 46th in FCS, a drop of 2 spots from last week.

VMI is ranked 114th (out of 124 teams) in FCS, falling two places from last week. Overall (all college teams ranked), The Citadel is 188th, while VMI is 414th.

Massey projects a final score of The Citadel 34, Virginia Military Institute 6. The Bulldogs are given a 98% chance of winning.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Wofford is 21st (down ten spots), Samford is 22nd (unchanged from last week), Furman is 23rd (up four places), Western Carolina is 32nd (down three spots), Mercer is 40th (down six spots), Charleston Southern is 41st, East Tennessee State is 67th (up five places), Chattanooga is 75th (down five spots), Presbyterian is 84th, and South Carolina State is 95th.

The FCS top five in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, James Madison, Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota.

– Since 1916, The Citadel has a 7-9 record in games played on October 28. The last time the Bulldogs played on October 28, in 2006, they defeated Georgia Southern 24-21. Tory Cooper had both a rushing and receiving touchdown in that contest; Duran Lawson was 18 for 27 passing for 201 yards and two TDs.

The Citadel has only one other home victory on October 28 in the last 65 years. In 1978, the Bulldogs defeated Delaware 21-14 on a rainy afternoon in Charleston. In that contest, The Citadel scored on offense (a 51-yard run by Stump Mitchell), on defense (an 84-yard pick-six by Joe Harvey), and on special teams (after Mike Cunningham blocked a Blue Hens field goal attempt, Mike Adams picked up the ball and ran 71 yards for the game-winning TD).

– There are no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep for the VMI game, the third consecutive week the depth chart has remained the same.

Through seven games, the Bulldogs’ starting lineup on offense has remained unchanged. The same is true for ten of the eleven starting spots on defense; the only exception came at cornerback, when Shy Phillips started the Wofford game in place of Tyus Carter.

– The Citadel has been outscored 56-35 in the first quarter this season. In the other three quarters, the Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 139-83 (including 90-41 in the second half).

– In eight games this season, VMI has scored a total of 17 points in the second half.

– Among VMI’s notable graduates are actor Fred Willard, playwright/screenwriter Fred Finklehoffe, and civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels.

– Baseball player Dan Crawford is arguably the most well-known VMI alum on the athletic side of the ledger. He later had a conspicuous career in politics.

– The roster for VMI (per its website) includes 66 players from the State of Virginia, slightly over 70% of the total number of players. Other states represented: Tennessee (6 players), North Carolina (6), Pennsylvania (4), Alabama (3), Georgia (2), Texas (2), and one each from West Virginia, New York, California, Maryland, and Kentucky.

There are no Palmetto State players among the Keydets, not even from pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. A quick Google search suggests that no player from that school has suited up for VMI in at least the last 35 years, which if true would be simply staggering. Not coincidentally, the Keydets have not had a winning season on the gridiron during that stretch.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (29), Florida (6), North Carolina (5), Alabama (4), Texas (4), Pennsylvania (3), Tennessee (2), New York (2), and one each from Louisiana, Michigan, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The beginning of this post features an excerpt from the game story for a 1984 contest played between VMI and The Citadel. Why did I choose that particular game to highlight?

  • It was a Homecoming game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium
  • The Citadel had a solid team that year, while VMI was scuffling
  • The Bulldogs were heavily favored to win, and had a big game on tap for the following Saturday

Does any of that seem familiar?

I could have picked out several other games between these two schools with a similar profile. Bulldog fans of every era can remember games like that in this series. Some of them didn’t end on a positive note for the Bulldogs, either.

Heck, last year would have been a decent example. The Citadel was trying to complete a first-ever perfect conference campaign, while VMI was 3-6, but when the fourth quarter rolled around the Bulldogs were only up by three points and the Keydets seemed to have the momentum.

VMI tried just about everything in the trick-play handbook in that game, and some of it worked. Back in 1984, the Keydets apparently employed slightly different tactics, but the principle was the same — do whatever it takes to win this game.

“You can throw the records out when these teams play” is such a trite sports cliché, and one that is often not true — but it is very much true when these two institutions meet on the gridiron. Over the years, both schools have played spoiler.

Of course, this game is about a lot more than just conference standings or making a late-season playoff push.

It is the Military Classic of the South. VMI and The Citadel will both be ready for battle on Saturday. The action will be fast and fierce.

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

2015 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 7. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

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 VMI-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Scott Wachenheim on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 11/3 press conference (with comments from Sam Frye and Mitchell Jeter)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Promotional spot for VMI-The Citadel

FCS Coaches’ Poll

Eric Goins one of 32 kickers recognized by the Fred Mitchell Award

Dee Delaney and Mitchell Jeter both make a CFPA Watch List

VMI’s video preview of the game

Scott Wachenheim is in his first year at the helm of VMI football; it is the first head coaching job for the 53-year-old native of Woodland Hills, California. Wachenheim replaced Sparky Woods, who was let go after seven seasons in Lexington.

Wachenheim was an offensive lineman at Air Force who later served as an assistant coach under Ken Hatfield at Rice for twelve years (Hatfield had also been Wachenheim’s head coach when he played at Air Force). In the last five years of his tenure at Rice, Wachenheim was the Owls’ offensive coordinator; prior to that, he had been the offensive line coach.

After the Ken Hatfield era at Rice ended, Wachenheim spent three years at Liberty, then moved to the NFL for one season as the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins. He had been an assistant at Virginia for five years before getting the VMI gig.

At his introductory press conference, Wachenheim was asked if, and how, VMI could win:

I think you win because you’re at VMI. I think that’s why you win…because of what our young men work at on post and in barracks. I think you can take those lessons that have been proven over many, many years to produce some of America’s best leaders and some of the toughest men and use that to help you build a championship football team.

That’s fine and all, but VMI players have always worked hard on post and in the barracks, and it hasn’t translated into a winning season since 1981. Until the administration at the school makes it a priority to have a more successful football program, that is likely to continue.

The next few sections include statistical team/conference comparisons for league contests only, unless otherwise indicated.

Both VMI and The Citadel have played five conference games. The Keydets are 1-4 in the SoCon. They have lost to Furman (24-21), Samford (49-13), Chattanooga (33-27), and Wofford (41-20). VMI’s lone win in the league came at Mercer (28-21).

Of those games, the Samford, Chattanooga, and Wofford matchups were played in Lexington.

The Citadel is 5-0 in the league, having defeated Western Carolina (28-10), Wofford (39-12), and Mercer (21-19) at home, while beating Samford (44-25) and Furman (38-17) on the road.

In five league games, VMI’s offense has thrown the ball 201 times, with nineteen other would-be pass play attempts resulting in sacks. Not counting those sacks, the Keydets have rushed 135 times, so VMI has passed the ball (or attempted to pass) on just under 62% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Passing yardage accounts for 74.1% of VMI’s total offense (with sack yardage removed from the total). The Keydets average 6.1 yards per pass attempt (again, with sacks/yardage taken into account). VMI’s average yards per pass attempt rises to 7.1 when sacks are not considered.

Among SoCon teams, VMI is seventh in scoring offense (21.8 ppg). The Keydets are fifth in total offense, but last in yards per play (5.1).

The Citadel is second in scoring defense (16.6 ppg) and total defense, allowing 4.8 yards per play. Chattanooga leads the conference in both categories.

The Keydets are second in passing offense, averaging 287 yards per game. VMI is sixth among SoCon teams in offensive pass efficiency, with seven touchdown passes against eleven interceptions.

The Citadel is sixth in the conference in pass defense, but second in pass defense efficiency. The Bulldogs are allowing 6.5 yards per pass attempt, third in the league, and have intercepted 7 passes in conference play (while giving up four TD tosses).

Last week, The Citadel did not intercept a pass against Mercer (which still has not thrown a pick all season). The Bulldogs now have a 13/4 interception/TD ratio, second-best in the FCS (behind Southern Utah, which has 14 interceptions and has only allowed 3 touchdown passes).

While VMI quarterback Al Cobb has been sacked nineteen times in conference play, The Citadel’s defense has recorded 17 sacks, tied with Chattanooga for the most in SoCon games. Mitchell Jeter picked up another sack against Mercer and now has 5.5 in league contests, more than any other player.

VMI has completed 60.8% of its passes, fourth-best among league teams. The Keydets average 40.2 pass attempts per contest, second-most in the conference (Samford is averaging a borderline incredible 47.6 passing attempts in SoCon play).

The Citadel’s defense is allowing an opponents’ completion percentage of 59.5%, third-lowest in the conference.

VMI is last in the SoCon in rushing offense, averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Not counting sacks, the Keydets average 27 rushing attempts per league contest.

In conference games, The Citadel is second in rushing defense, and is allowing 3.4 yards per rush (also placing second in that category).

VMI is converting 42.9% of its third-down attempts, fourth-best in the SoCon. The Citadel is second in the league in defensive third down conversion rate (35.2%).

The last two games for VMI have featured the highs and lows of third-down conversion attempts. Against Mercer, the Keydets converted 17 of 19 third-down tries, including 12 straight to begin the game (and six of those were 3rd-and-7 or longer).

Last week versus Wofford, however, VMI was only 1 for 12 converting third-down attempts.

The Keydets have a red zone TD rate of 57.9% (11-19). Of the Keydets’ eleven red zone touchdowns, six came via the rush. The Citadel’s red zone defensive TD rate (50%, 8-16) is tied for first in the conference with Wofford (10-20).

When going for it on fourth down this season, VMI is 6 for 12 (50%). Opponents of The Citadel have tried ten fourth-down attempts in league action, converting six times.

VMI is last among league teams in total defense, allowing 33.6 points per game. The Keydets are fifth in the league in total defense, allowing 5.6 yards per play.

The Keydets are fifth in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 4.9 yards per rush attempt (next-to-last in the league). VMI opponents have scored fourteen rushing touchdowns in five games.

The Citadel is first in scoring offense (34.0 ppg), second in total offense (averaging 6.2 yards per play, tops in the SoCon) and leads the league in rushing offense (a category in which the Bulldogs rank second nationally, behind only Cal Poly). The Citadel is averaging 5.6 yards per rush attempt, best in the conference.

Tangent: speaking of Cal Poly, the Mustangs had four different players rush for over 100 yards last week – but still lost by 17 points to Southern Utah, 54-37. Cal Poly lost five fumbles, three of which were returned for touchdowns by the opportunistic Thunderbird defensive unit.

You don’t see a box score like that every day.

The Bulldogs are next-to-last in the SoCon in passing yardage per game (ahead of Wofford), but average a league-best 11.1 yards per pass attempt, and are first in offensive pass efficiency among conference squads. The Citadel’s offense has two TD passes and one interception in league play.

VMI is fifth in pass defense among SoCon outfits, sixth in defensive pass efficiency, with one interception against five touchdown passes allowed. The Keydets’ D has four sacks in five games.

At 52.9%, The Citadel leads the conference in offensive third down conversion rate; overall, the Bulldogs are third nationally (behind James Madison and Kennesaw State). VMI is sixth in the SoCon in defensive third down conversion rate, at 46.2%.

The Citadel has an offensive red zone TD rate of 72.7%, second-best in the league. All 16 of the Bulldogs’ red zone touchdowns in SoCon play have been of the rushing variety.

VMI’s red zone defensive TD rate is 71.4%, which ranks next-to-last among conference teams.

The Bulldogs are 2 for 4 on fourth-down conversion attempts in league games. The Keydets’ defense has stopped SoCon opponents on fourth down on 4 of 8 occasions.

The Citadel is +5 in turnover margin (gained eleven, lost six), tied for second in the league in that category. The Keydets have the SoCon’s worst mark at -9 (gained five, lost fourteen).

For the season, VMI is -16 in turnover margin, worse than any other FCS team except Idaho State. Only one team (Mississippi Valley State) has committed more turnovers than the Keydets.

Of the fourteen turnovers VMI has given up in SoCon play, ten of them have occurred in the second half — eight interceptions, two fumbles. Both of the second-half fumbles came last week against Wofford; one of them happened after a Terrier punt hit a Keydet blocker on the foot, and was then recovered by Wofford.

VMI has committed at least one second-half turnover in all five of its conference games. In only one of those games (against Chattanooga, interestingly enough) did the Keydets commit fewer than two turnovers in the second half.

On FG attempts, the Bulldogs are 3 for 5 in the league (21-21 on PATs). The Keydets are 4 for 5 kicking field goals, and are 13-14 on extra point attempts.

The Citadel is fifth in the conference in net punting yardage (35.9), while VMI ranks seventh (31.2). As for kickoff coverage, the Bulldogs are third in the league, while the Keydets are second.

VMI is next-to-last in the SoCon in kickoff return average, though the Keydets opened last week’s game against Wofford with a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD. The Citadel is first in this category, though it should be noted that the Bulldogs have only returned six kickoffs in league contests.

The Bulldogs rank fourth in time of possession (32:16) among league teams. The Keydets are sixth (26:43).

VMI is averaging 71 plays from scrimmage per game, with a 2.66 plays-per-minute rate, which is a rapid pace. The Bulldogs are averaging 70.4 plays per game, with a 2.18 plays-per-minute rate.

In league play, VMI has been called for 3.6 penalties per game, second-fewest in the SoCon (behind Mercer); the Keydets are third nationally in this category. In addition, VMI has been the beneficiary of more penalty yardage assessed against its opponents than any other league team.

The Citadel has been called for the third-most penalties among SoCon teams. Of course, Bulldog opponents have been called for fewer penalties than opponents of any other conference school, which is becoming a tradition.

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

Al Cobb (6’3″, 190 lbs.) is VMI’s outstanding second-year quarterback. Cobb is from Pulaski, Tennessee (one of ten Tennesseans on the Keydets’ roster).

So far this season, Cobb is completing 60.8% of his passes, averaging 7.02 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He is averaging almost 40 pass attempts per game.

Cobb is not afraid to throw the ball downfield. He is averaging 11.5 yards per completion, with 23 passes going for 25+ yards. Cobb also had a 29-yard reception versus Samford.

While that catch showed some versatility, Cobb much prefers to throw the ball to targets like Aaron Sanders.

Sanders (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is a junior who led the Keydets in receptions last season with 58, for 901 yards and 4 touchdowns. He had a big game against The Citadel in last year’s matchup, with 7 receptions for 165 yards and a score.

This season, Sanders already has 72 receptions, which leads the SoCon. That includes a monster outing in VMI’s victory over Mercer, in which he caught a school-record 16 passes for 218 yards.

Of those 218 yards, 146 came after the catch. That will be something to watch on Saturday, not just for Sanders but for the other Keydet pass-catchers. The Citadel’s defenders have to do a good job tackling “in space” to avoid giving up big plays.

VMI flanker Dane Forlines (5’10”, 190 lbs.) has 44 receptions, second on the team. The junior from Richmond caught a touchdown pass against The Citadel last season.

Tight end Sam Patterson (6’5″, 215 lbs.) is a big-play threat who has five touchdown receptions this season. Patterson was limited by injury last year, but he had eight TD catches in 2013.

Derrick Ziglar (5’9″, 230 lbs.) is a fifth-year senior who leads the Keydets in rushing. Ziglar, who averages 4.4 yards per carry and has seven rushing TDs, can also catch passes out of the backfield (nine receptions).

VMI has had some injury issues in the backfield, opening up an opportunity for freshman Quan Myers (5’9″, 175 lbs.).

Average size of the projected starters on the Keydets’ offensive line: 6’4″, 298 lbs. Left tackle Andrew Lewis (6’5″, 260 lbs.) was injured against Wofford last week, but the converted tight end is still listed as a starter on the two-deep.

VMI lines up in a 3-4 defense when not facing the triple option. The Keydets often featured five-man fronts during the latter years of Sparky Woods’ time on post.

It will be interesting to see how Scott Wachenheim and his defensive coordinator, Tom Clark, approach things from a schematic standpoint. Clark was a defensive coach (and former coordinator) at William & Mary prior to taking the position at VMI. Of course, Wachenheim has plenty of experience with the option from an offensive perspective, dating back to his days as a player at Air Force and as a coach at Rice.

Joe Nelson (6’3″, 265 lbs.) is an excellent defensive lineman in his third year as a starter. He had ten tackles against The Citadel in last year’s game.

In the previous two seasons, Nelson was a nosetackle, but he is starting at defensive end this year.

The Keydets’ two inside linebackers are both tackling machines. Allan Cratsenberg (6’3, 220 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 89. The sophomore from Pennsylvania has started every game this season, as has redshirt junior Ryan Francis (6’1″, 200 lbs.). Francis has 85 tackles, including seven tackles for loss.

Outside linebacker Tony Richardson (6’3″, 215 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 8.5. Free safety Greg Sanders (no relation to Aaron Sanders) is a 5’10”, 170 lb. sophomore who is third on the team in tackles, with 69.

Caleb Furlow (6’2″, 195 lbs.) has started every game at cornerback for the Keydets after missing last season due to injury. In 2013, Furlow made 12 starts at strong safety.

Dillon Christopher (6’2″, 200 lbs.) is a third-year starter at placekicker for VMI. He is 9-11 on FG attempts this season, with a long of 40 yards. Christopher has a strong leg, having made two 52-yard field goals during his career. He is 21-24 on PATs this year.

Hayden Alford (6’3″, 200 lbs.) is VMI’s punter, averaging 39.5 yards per punt, with six of his forty kicks downed inside the 20-yard-line. He has had one punt blocked this season.

Alford is also VMI’s backup quarterback, and the Keydets are not afraid to take advantage of that; Mike Houston called VMI’s special teams “very aggressive” on his radio show.

That aggression includes opening the second half against Wofford with an onside kick, which was ruled to have been recovered by Wofford, though that decision was controversial.

The Citadel will have to be on its guard on Saturday; players must be mindful of the possibilities for fake punts and other special teams “tricks”.

Dane Forlines in VMI’s primary punt returner, and has also returned the most kickoffs for VMI (16). Greg Sanders is second in that category, with eight kickoff returns. One of those eight was a 99-yard kick return TD on the opening play of the game against Wofford.

Sanders was the first Keydet to return a kickoff return for a touchdown since Tim Maypray (now a VMI assistant coach) did it against The Citadel in 2007. Maypray’s return against the Bulldogs that season was also 99 yards.

Ryan Swingle (6’3″, 225 lbs.), who is VMI’s starting fullback, also snaps on punts and holds on placekicks. The snapper for placekicks is junior Walker Hays (6’1″, 265 lbs.).

Odds and ends:

– As always, there will be a lot going on at Homecoming. Here is a schedule listing some of the events: Link

– The Citadel Regimental Band will perform at halftime.

– The Bulldogs will be trying to win their sixth league game of the season on Saturday. Only once before, in 1992, has The Citadel won six SoCon football contests in a year.

– The weather forecast: as of Wednesday night, the National Weather Service was projecting a mostly sunny day in Charleston on Saturday, with a high of 80 degrees.

It is Homecoming. The Bulldogs are on a four-game winning streak, are 5-0 in the SoCon, and play for the league title next week. The weather looks good.

There is no reason not to be at this game — and it is possible that many other people share that opinion. On his radio show Wednesday night, Mike Houston mentioned that he was told by a school official that the West Stands were “sold out” for Saturday.

Massey Ratings update: The Citadel is rated 112th in Division I, 17th among FCS teams. Chattanooga is the highest-rated SoCon team (9th in FCS).

Harvard is still rated first among FCS teams, which I consider to be an example of how playing a restricted schedule can skew a rating. The Ivy League as a whole has played a grand total of four non-conference games this season against opponents outside of the NEC and Patriot League (Rhode Island twice, Maine, and Villanova).

VMI is rated 80th among FCS teams, one spot ahead of Mercer. Other league squads: Western Carolina (30th), Furman (41st), Wofford (44th), Samford (52nd).

South Carolina is rated 67th among all D1 squads; Georgia Southern is 66th. Clemson is still 2nd.

There are 24 FBS teams currently trailing The Citadel in the ratings.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 23-point favorite over VMI. The over/under is 62.

That strikes me as a fairly ludicrous line, given that only Samford has beaten VMI by a larger margin, and The Citadel has only defeated two teams by more points all season (Davidson and Wofford).

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 16-point favorite at Mercer; Western Carolina is favored by 8 points versus Furman; and Samford is expected to crush Clark Atlanta, as the Birmingham Bulldogs are 50-point favorites against the Division II school.

The matchup between Furman and Western Carolina is essentially the league’s third-place game and does carry some potential playoff ramifications, though that may be a longshot for either team.

Wofford is off on Saturday. The Terriers will host Furman next week.

– East Tennessee State finally got a win this season, beating Warner 42-9. The Buccaneers are now 1-7. ETSU travels to Moon Township, Pennsylvania on Saturday, to play Robert Morris. The Colonials are 24.5-point favorites in that game.

– Of the 22 starting positions on The Citadel’s offensive and defensive units, the same player has started every game for 18 of them.

That number was 20 until last week, when Vinny Miller and Alex Glover missed the Mercer game with injuries. Both are listed as starters on this week’s two-deep, however.

– VMI has 56 players from Virginia on its roster. Other states represented: Tennessee (10), Pennsylvania (6), Maryland (5), North Carolina (4), Georgia (4), West Virginia (2), New York (2), and one each from Florida, Michigan, Alabama, and South Carolina (starting right tackle Iyan Roseborough, who went to Fairfield Central High School). There is also one Keydet from Washington, DC.

– Two weeks ago, VMI won at Mercer, breaking a 30-game road losing streak. Last week was a home game for the Keydets.

VMI has not won two straight road games since 1979. The Keydets will have a chance to do so on Saturday.

– VMI last defeated The Citadel in 2002, a matchup played in Charlotte. It is a game generally remembered for being contested in miserable weather, and with horrific field conditions.

– In 2003, VMI finished 6-6, its last non-losing season. The Keydets were coached at the time by Cal McCombs, a graduate of The Citadel. Since that year, VMI’s overall record is 25-107.

– Individual leaders for The Citadel (SoCon games only): Dee Delaney has three interceptions in five league contests, one more than any other player, and is far and away the conference leader in passes defensed. Besides leading the league in sacks, Mitchell Jeter also tops the SoCon in tackles for loss.

Joe Crochet remains the only conference player to have recovered more than one fumble in league play (he has two). Eric Goins has the most converted PATs without a miss (21).

Dominique Allen leads the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency and is tied for first in points scored (48). DeAndre Schoultz is apparently the only league punt returner with enough returns (14 in conference games) to qualify for the conference leaderboard.

While none of them are leading the league, there are four Bulldogs in the top 10 of rushing (conference play only): Dominique Allen, Cam Jackson, Vinny Miller, and Tyler Renew. To highlight the number of quality runners The Citadel has on the roster, two other Bulldogs (Isiaha Smith and Evan McField) appear in the top 10 in overall rushing among league players (joined on that list by Allen and Miller).

– In the links section at the top of this post, I noted that Eric Goins has been recognized for the Fred Mitchell Award. As it happens, Mitchell (a longtime sportswriter) is leaving the Chicago Tribune next month after a 41-year career with that newspaper.

– This week, the Bulldogs will wear light blue jerseys and white pants for Homecoming. Hey, our actual school colors! Miracles do happen.

– This year’s senior class finished 4-0 in Parents’ Day games, with victories over Western Carolina, Appalachian State, Charlotte, and Wofford.

If The Citadel wins on Saturday, the seniors will also complete a perfect 4-0 set of wins on Homecoming. In the past three seasons, the Bulldogs have prevailed at Homecoming against Elon, Samford, and Furman.

Somewhat surprisingly, in the modern history of Parents’ Day/Homecoming games (since 1953), The Citadel has never had a four-year stretch in which it won all eight “celebration weekend” contests.

VMI always comes ready to play against The Citadel, and this year will be no different. The Keydets are led by a talented quarterback capable of ringing up yards and points in a hurry (that includes last year’s matchup, when Al Cobb threw for 396 yards against the Bulldogs).

Most of VMI’s games this season have been competitive, and the Keydets are probably unfortunate to only have one league victory. VMI’s win at Mercer and its near-miss against Chattanooga are two good examples of what the Keydets can do on a good day.

Even on some not-so-good days, VMI has done things that make you think. Against Richmond, a top-10 FCS team, the Keydets rushed for 202 yards. That’s not something you necessarily expect.

During his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston made the observation that the players took the rivalry very seriously, and that for them the VMI game is “as big, or maybe even bigger” than the game against Furman. He noted the game was very important for the players, and that he had sensed this last year as well.

That was good to hear.

This is the first of three big games for The Citadel. It is the only one of the three, however, in which the coveted Silver Shako is at stake.

The greatest trophy in all of sports has resided in Charleston for quite some time now. It needs to stay in the Holy City for at least another year.

Go Dogs!