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.

2014 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb

The Citadel vs. Gardner-Webb, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 27. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed for free on the SoCon Digital Network, the league’s new streaming platform.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Mike Legg (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

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

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel and Gardner-Webb

The Bulldogs must “stick to their guns”

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Mike Houston 9/23 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray previews The Citadel

– American Sports Network affiliate list for two SoCon football games, worth a look for future interest (namely Chattanooga-The Citadel on 10/18)

Some statistics of note through three games:

– The Citadel is averaging 3.36 yards per pass. This is obviously not good enough. Neither is a pass completion rate of 24.2%. The Bulldogs currently rank last in FCS football in passing yards per game.

Obviously, The Citadel is not going to throw the ball all over the field in its triple option offense. However, when the Bulldogs do pass the ball, they need to make it count. Not only must they complete more passes, they have to go for more yardage. The longest completion so far this season has been 24 yards.

– To succeed on third down, The Citadel has to be better on first and second down. The Bulldogs have faced 3rd-and-long (5 yards or more) no fewer than 26 times this season. That’s 60% of all third downs for The Citadel’s offense.

– Mike Houston was generally pleased with the defensive performance last week, and I can understand that. However (as I mentioned in my review), The Citadel did not force a turnover in that game or any other so far this season.

The defense needs to make more game-changing plays. The lack of turnovers and sacks (just three through three games) is a little troubling.

The Bulldogs’ secondary is guarding against big plays in the passing game, which I think is a good idea with this squad. That makes it all the more important for the front seven to pressure the quarterback, particularly on passing downs.

Opponents have had 21 3rd-and-long situations this year. They have successfully converted seven times. That’s too high (33.3%). Six of those seven conversions have come via the pass.

– This may surprise some people, given the number of times penalties have affected the Bulldogs this year, but The Citadel is tied for 12th nationally in the category of fewest penalties per game. The Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Gardner-Webb, is tied for 10th.

It’s not as much the number of penalties that have hurt The Citadel, it’s the timing of those infractions. The Bulldogs cannot afford drive-killing penalties. The margin of error for The Citadel is not nearly big enough to overcome those.

Speaking of penalties, while Mike Houston is restricted in what he can say about officiating, I’m not. The officials did not have a good game last week.

There were multiple bad calls, and most of them didn’t favor The Citadel. From a technical perspective, probably the most egregious error by an official was the pass interference call on Walker Smith, which appeared to have been made by the field judge. I have no idea what the official was thinking on that play.

The men in stripes were ACC/SoCon officials, so Houston is likely to see them again during the season, making it even more important that he not burn any bridges. I did like that in his press conference, Houston referred to the referee as “White Hat”.

“White Hat” was in charge for the 2012 Army-Navy game, while his compatriot with the interesting theory on pass interference worked last year’s Sugar Bowl. It makes one wonder if officials such as these who are assigned games outside the ACC don’t fully concentrate when calling FCS games.

Gardner-Webb started its institutional life as a high school, in 1905. By 1928 it had become a junior college; the school began offering four-year degrees in 1969. It has been known as Gardner-Webb University since 1993.

The school is named for former North Carolina governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, along with their families. O. Max Gardner is the only person to have ever been captain of both football teams at UNC and NC State.

Gardner-Webb is closely affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. The 200-acre campus is located in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. There are around 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students at Gardner-Webb; 63% of them are women.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs play their home football games in Spangler Stadium, which is a 9,000-seat multi-purpose stadium. I mention that because The Citadel’s football team may be making a trip to Boiling Springs in the next few years, perhaps in 2016.

Head coach Carroll McCray is a Gardner-Webb alum with a lot of coaching connections familiar to Bulldog fans. He was an assistant under Sparky Woods at both Appalachian State and South Carolina, spent seven seasons as the offensive line coach at Samford, then took over the Austin Peay football program as its head coach for four years (2003-06).

McCray then served as Bobby Lamb’s offensive line coach at both Furman and Mercer, before replacing Jamey Chadwell as North Greenville’s head coach in 2012. After one year there, his alma mater hired him as its head coach.

Gardner-Webb was 7-5 in McCray’s first season in charge, with victories over both Furman and Wofford (along with a puzzling 27-9 loss to VMI).

This season, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are 2-2. G-W has lost road games at Wake Forest and Furman (the game in which Paladins starting quarterback Reese Hannon broke his ankle). At home, Gardner-Webb has defeated Virginia-Lynchburg and Wofford. The 43-36 victory over the Terriers came last week.

In his Tuesday press conference, Mike Houston described Gardner-Webb as a “60-40” team in terms of its pass-run ratio. That’s about right in terms of yardage (56% of G-W’s total yards have come via the air), but the actual play calls have been very close to 50-50 (taking sacks into account).

Gardner-Webb rushed for 126 yards versus Wofford, but struggled on the ground against Furman (69 rush yards) and Wake Forest (77).

It is interesting (or perhaps curious) that the G-W defense was excellent against the run against the Paladins and Demon Deacons, more or less matching the opposing D, but allowed 322 rush yards to Wofford. In Gardner-Webb’s world, either both teams run the ball, or neither team runs the ball.

Gardner-Webb is led by quarterback Lucas Beatty, a fifth-year senior from Charlotte who has started 32 games for the Runnin’ Bulldogs during his career. This season, Beatty is completing 59% of his passes, averaging just over six yards per attempt, with five touchdowns versus two interceptions.

Beatty’s backup is a freshman, Tyrell Maxwell, who has seen limited action thus far for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, he has already rushed for 173 yards, and scored touchdowns against Virginia-Lynchburg, Wake Forest, and Wofford. A native of Cordova, Maxwell attended Edisto High School and was selected to last year’s Shrine Bowl.

The star offensive performer for G-W is senior wideout Kenny Cook, an imposing (6’4”, 218 lb.) target who caught 76 passes last season for over 1,000 yards and nine TDs. Cook, a native of Cross Hill, missed the Wake Forest and Virginia-Lynchburg games with an injured hamstring.

He returned against Wofford last week, catching six passes (one of which went for a touchdown). Cook will be a very difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.

Cook’s presence also allows more freedom for Beatty’s other passing targets. They include tight end Seth Cranfill, a 6’4”, 246 lb. redshirt senior who has two TD catches this year, and Deonte Swinton, another tall wideout (6’2”) who is also a redshirt senior.

Swinton is one of seven different Runnin’ Bulldogs with five or more receptions, as Beatty likes to spread the wealth. He’s not afraid to throw to his running backs, either.

One of those backs, Juanne Blount, was a preseason All-Big South pick after rushing for 1,040 yards during the 2013 campaign. He is yet another redshirt senior.

That is a recurring theme with Gardner-Webb. This is a team with a lot of experienced, older players, particularly on offense. Six of the offensive starters listed on the two-deep are redshirt seniors.

Another Runnin’ Bulldog trait is size. It’s a very tall, rangy team. Four of the starting offensive linemen are 6’4” or 6’5”, as are Cranfill and Kenny Cook. Juanne Blount is the only offensive starter under 6’1”. In addition to their size, the word “athletic” is thrown around a lot describing the majority of Gardner-Webb players.

The offense has 15 plays from scrimmage this season of 20 or more yards, ten passing and five rushing.

Gardner-Webb has taken a few hits on defense, including the loss due to injury of “spur” linebacker Chad Geter, who was leading the team in tackles after two games. Another injured linebacker, two-time All-Big South selection Tanner Burch, has yet to play for the Runnin’ Bulldogs this season.

Then there is defensive Shaq Riddick, who finished fifth in the voting for last year’s Buck Buchanan Award. Riddick would have been a fifth-year senior at Gardner-Webb this season, but elected to transfer to West Virginia for his final year of eligibility.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs are hardly bereft of quality defenders, however. From The Citadel’s perspective, perhaps the key player for Gardner-Webb is noseguard O.J. Mau, a 6’2”, 308 lb. rock in the G-W defensive line. Mau was a first-team All-Big South pick last year and is expected to contend for national honors this season.

He is still developing, too, as Mau will not turn 20 years old until the day after Gardner-Webb plays The Citadel. He is from American Samoa, and played in the 2012 Oceania Bowl, helping lead his team to a 93-7 victory over Australia.

Defensive end Tyler Hough-Jenkins is yet another large (6’4”, 274 lb.) redshirt senior. The other d-line starter is junior Jebrai Regan, a converted linebacker.

Aaron Cook, who plays the “bandit” position in Gardner-Webb’s 3-4 base defense, currently leads the team in tackles with 25. Cook is a sophomore. True freshman Jeffrey Pegues will start at one of the inside linebacker positions.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs do have some linebacking experience in the person of senior Donald Buie (taking over Geter’s “spur” role) and junior Azziz Higgins. Another player who should see action is redshirt freshman Quinton Patterson, a transfer from North Carolina State.

The defensive secondary is led by cornerback Ivan Toomer, who doubles as a kick returner for Gardner-Webb. He leads the team in pass breakups with four, and also had an interception return for a touchdown against Virginia-Lynchburg.

Toomer is one of seven different Gardner-Webb players with an interception (one each). The Runnin’ Bulldogs also have a fumble recovery (by yet another defender). Gardner-Webb has a +5 turnover margin for the season, and has scored 20 points off turnovers while allowing no points off its own turnovers.

It should be noted that three of those interceptions came against an overmatched Virginia-Lynchburg team (as did four of G-W’s nine sacks). Virginia-Lynchburg had a net rushing total of -21 yards versus Gardner-Webb.

The placekicker for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, Paul Schumacher, is a freshman from West Palm Beach, FL. He is 4-8 on field goal attempts, with a long of 29 yards. Redshirt sophomore Dustin Holder has been the punter, though Gardner-Webb’s two-deep suggests that South Carolina transfer Andrew Komornik is an option for the game against The Citadel.

Toomer and wideout J.J. Hubbard will handle kickoff return duties, with Hubbard also serving as the punt returner for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Hubbard returned a kickoff for a touchdown last season against Charleston Southern.

A few miscellaneous numbers:

– Gardner-Webb has outscored its opponents in the third quarter 33-10. I guess Carroll McCray can give a good halftime speech.

– The Runnin’ Bulldogs have a red zone offensive TD rate of just 53% (8-15), but have excelled defensively in the red zone, with a TD rate of 45% (5-11).

– I’m not sure I believe this, but according to Gardner-Webb’s statistical summary, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have picked up 15 first downs via penalty, while the defense has not given up a single first down by penalty all season.

Odds and ends:

– Saturday is Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel. The halftime show should be a good one, with the Charleston Police Department Pipe and Drums on hand, to be followed by The Citadel Chorale (fresh from rave reviews in Boston) singing “God Bless America”.

Players will wear a helmet sticker bearing the number “440”, representing the number of cadets who have died serving their country.

Incidentally, last Saturday was Military Appreciation Day at Gardner-Webb.

– During the first quarter, fans can have their picture taken with the coveted Silver Shako. Don’t miss the chance to get a selfie with the greatest trophy in all of sports.

– Bags and purses will be subject to search this week as part of a new security policy at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This might cause a delay in entering the facility, so keep that in mind. This may be a response to an incident at the stadium during the Sertoma Classic in August, when a teenager brought a gun to the game, then threw it in one of the end zones as he was running from the police.

– Players will be wearing 1960 replica jerseys on Saturday, honoring the 1960 team that won eight games, including the Tangerine Bowl. The jerseys will be auctioned off to raise money for the department of athletics. Let’s hope these uniforms won’t be judged as illegal, unlike last season’s uniform debacle (“Unigate”).

The Citadel badly needs a victory. Do I think the Bulldogs can get one this week?

It’s possible, but to be honest I’m not very confident. My confidence doesn’t matter, though. It’s the team’s self-esteem that matters.

I hope the Bulldogs expect to win on Saturday. I hope even more that they actually win.

2014 football: what teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Is this relatively unimportant? Yes. Are we still in the month of July, and football season for The Citadel doesn’t start until August 30, and that day can’t get here soon enough, so any discussion about football right now is good discussion? Yes.

I posted about this topic last year too, for the record.

Anyway, here we go:

August 30: Coastal Carolina comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium for the first meeting ever between the two programs. It’s the season opener for both teams, so the Chanticleers obviously won’t play anyone before squaring off against the Bulldogs.

Coastal Carolina’s last game in 2013 was a 48-14 loss at North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.

September 6: The Citadel travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State. It will be Youth and Band Day at Doak Campbell Stadium, and also the first home game for the Seminoles since winning the BCS title game in January.

FSU warms up for its matchup against the Bulldogs by playing Oklahoma State in JerrahWorld on August 30, and then Jimbo Fisher’s crew get a much-needed week off following the game against The Citadel before hosting a second consecutive Palmetto State squad, Clemson.

September 13: No game, as this is The Citadel’s “bye week”.

September 20: Ah, it’s the Larry Leckonby Bowl, as The Citadel travels up the road to play Charleston Southern, a much-criticized scheduling decision by the former AD. This will be the fourth consecutive home game for the Buccaneers, though they don’t actually play on the Saturday before this game. That’s because CSU’s game against Campbell will take place on Thursday, September 11.

September 27: The Citadel’s first three home games in 2014 all feature opponents that have never faced the Bulldogs on the gridiron. The second of these encounters comes against another band of Bulldogs, the “Runnin’ Bulldogs” of Gardner-Webb. On September 20, G-W will host Wofford.

October 4: Speaking of Wofford, The Citadel will travel to Spartanburg on October 4. It will be the first home game of the season for the Terriers against a D-1 opponent. Wofford tangles with UVA-Wise the week before facing The Citadel.

October 11: The Citadel plays Charlotte, which has back-to-back road games against Bulldogs, as the 49ers play Gardner-Webb before making the trip to Charleston.

October 18: Chattanooga has a very tough stretch in this part of its schedule. The week before matching up with The Citadel in Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Mocs will make the journey to Knoxville to play Tennessee.

October 25: The Citadel travels to Cullowhee to play Western Carolina. It’s Homecoming Week for the Catamounts, which play at Mercer before hosting the Bulldogs.

November 1: Another road trip for The Citadel (and another week as a Homecoming opponent), as the Bulldogs play a conference game against Mercer for the first time. The Bears are at Chattanooga the week before this game.

November 8: VMI is the Paladins’ opponent on November 1, so Furman will play military school opponents in consecutive weeks — both on the road. Furman will play The Citadel in Charleston this year, just as it did last season, due to the turnover in the conference (which resulted in some scheduling adjustments).

November 15:  Samford hosts Western Carolina the week prior to its game against The Citadel. The following week, SU plays at Auburn.

November 22: The Citadel finishes its regular season campaign with a game in Lexington, Virginia, versus VMI. The coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

On November 15, VMI faces Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

Since Georgia Southern has left the league, there are now only two triple option teams in the SoCon. Only once will a league team face The Citadel and Wofford in consecutive weeks. Furman will play the Bulldogs before facing the Terriers.

Some people think it is important to be the first triple option team on an opponent’s schedule. That is the case for The Citadel when it meets Chattanooga, Mercer, and Furman, but not for its games against the other four league opponents.

Wofford itself will play a triple-option squad before its game against The Citadel, as the Terriers play Georgia Tech on August 30.

VMI actually faces two triple option teams before it plays The Citadel. The Keydets travel to Annapolis for a game against Navy on October 11, and will play Wofford in Spartanburg on October 25.

C’mon, football. Get here…

Game review, 2013: VMI

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

School release

Box score

WCSC-TV report (video)

Postgame comments from Kevin Higgins, Ben Dupree, and Sadath Jean-Pierre (YouTube video)

Kevin Higgins’ locker room speech (YouTube video)

Radio highlights

Also worth a link: Danny Reed’s pregame interview of Brian Ruff. I thought Ruff’s comments about Bobby Ross were particularly noteworthy, but the entire interview is quite interesting. I highly recommend it.

Well, the first half wasn’t exactly the finest Bulldog performance in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium. I couldn’t believe that VMI’s iron-deficient offense was consistently moving the ball on The Citadel’s D. Indeed, the Keydets did not punt in the entire half.

The offense wasn’t as bad, with the notable exception of the final series of the half. The playcalling on that drive was suspect at best.

However, adjustments were clearly made. Whether or not some of those adjustments were suggested with raised voices, the bottom line is that the Bulldogs played very well in the second half and took care of business, retaining the coveted Silver Shako in style.

The Citadel’s defense finished with seven sacks, some of which were quite impressive.

Derek Douglas pulling down VMI starting quarterback A.J. Augustine on a fourth-down play was memorable, though it wouldn’t have happened in the days of the tearaway jerseys. I can distinctly recall Stump Mitchell running for a long TD in a game against VMI, leaving multiple Keydet defenders in his wake, with several left holding a piece of Mitchell’s jersey…

Later in Saturday’s game, Douglas had another sack (this time of backup VMI quarterback Hayden Alford) in which he did not appear to actually put his hands on the QB; rather, he basically ran over him. From my vantage point in the stands, it was an explosive play, and also a very funny one.

VMI offensive lineman Emmanuel Cooper injured his knee late in the game, and then apparently started having heat-related issues. Best wishes to Cooper, and to his teammates, some of whom may have also struggled in the more-tropical-than-expected conditions.

From a fan’s perspective, the weather for the game was outstanding. The Citadel played six home games in 2013, and a jacket was not really necessary for any of them.

In a way, however, that makes the disappointing season attendance seem even worse. Saturday’s matchup with VMI was the least-attended contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year, though there wasn’t much difference in the attendance for any of the home games.

You can’t blame rain or cold for that, not this season.

I’m going to write about some of my thoughts on the attendance issues after the season, possibly in December. I want to think about it a little bit longer. There are a lot of “talking points”, if you will.

At that time, I’m also going to discuss in more detail the recent news that The Citadel is actually going to play a football game in Ladson next season, at Charleston Southern. I’ll be honest: I think it’s a terrible decision, one that provides no benefit to The Citadel at all.

After the football game, I wandered over to McAlister Field House to watch the hoopsters in person for the first time this season. The team played well against an overmatched opponent (North Greenville, a Division II school), winning 83-53.

The best thing about the Bulldogs’ play was the lack of turnovers. The Citadel’s turnover rate in the past two seasons has been horrendous, and a major reason why the program has struggled so much.

I am worried about the serious lack of depth in the squad (currently, only nine players are available).

At the end of my photo review of the football activities, I threw in a few photos of the basketball game. They won’t win any awards.

Coming up later in the week, I’ll preview the football team’s game against Clemson. Do the Tigers have a chance of winning their home finale? Maybe.

2013 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, the Military Classic of the South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 16. The game will not be televised, although it will be streamed on Bulldog Insider (subscription service) and can be heard on radio via the thirteen affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary.

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for the network; the station will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. It is also possible to listen to the game via a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Note that 1:00 pm ET start time, an hour earlier than for the past two home games. Don’t be late!

Also: The Citadel’s basketball team will be playing North Greenville at McAlister Field House on Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 7:05 pm ET. If you have your ticket from the football game, you can watch the basketball game for free.

The hoopsters won their first game of the season on Tuesday, beating Presbyterian 82-68 in the home opener. The team shot well against PC, and held off the Blue Hose down the stretch despite a fair amount of foul trouble.

I hope a lot of Bulldog fans make Saturday a personal football/basketball doubleheader.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

VMI game notes

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Kevin Higgins on the SoCon media teleconference

Sparky Woods on the Big South media teleconference (beginning at the 18:20 mark)

The Kevin Higgins Show

Advertisement for VMI-The Citadel (video)

Ben Dupree is the reigning SoCon offensive player of the week

Dupree once found out that wearing flip-flops can be problematic

Game story from The Post and Courier on The Citadel’s win over Elon

Game story from the Burlington Times-News on The Citadel’s win over Elon

This preview is going to be a little lighter on the usual historical/statistical minutiae (possibly a blessing in disguise), as I’m on the road much of this week.

Just a lot of “odds and ends” observations…

The game story from the Burlington (NC) newspaper included two quotes that I want to highlight:

Obviously, it’s a low point right now for Elon football

The above comment is from Elon head coach Jason Swepson. He is in his third season, but it may be his last if he keeps having to make pronouncements like that one. It’s not the way the school wanted to exit the SoCon before starting gridiron action in the CAA next season.

Yeah, since I’ve been on the team, it’s probably the lowest we’ve come as a Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us

That was said by Elon’s starting quarterback, Mike Quinn. “Phoenix, or the Phoenixes, or whatever you want to call us” is so…expressive.

I missed this article that ran last week in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but better late than never. Both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern currently have losing records against league teams, and I get the impression that doesn’t hurt the feelings of SoCon commissioner John Iamarino one bit.

VMI played its final Big South conference game last week against Gardner-Webb, and a funny thing happened. VMI won.

It wasn’t even close, as the Keydets prevailed 27-9. Gardner-Webb owns victories this season over Wofford and Furman, so yes, this was an upset.

How did it happen? Well, mostly it happened because A) VMI’s defense has been improving over the course of the season, and B) Gardner-Webb couldn’t get out of its own way.

Gardner-Webb opened the game by fumbling a snap into its own end zone, where VMI senior linebacker Weston Reber fell on the ball for a touchdown. G-W fumbled again on its next drive, setting up a Keydet field goal.

Those were two of Gardner-Webb’s five turnovers. The Runnin’ Bulldogs also committed thirteen penalties, and shanked a punt that went for just six yards. It just wasn’t G-W’s day.

Choice comments from Weston Reber:

“I just saw the ball on the ground,” said Reber, referring to G-W quarterback Lucas Beatty, who had lost the ball after having trouble fielding a low snap.

“I was on a lineman and I said, ‘I’m getting this damn ball, this thing is mine!’ It was a foot away and it kept rolling and kept rolling, and when it rolled over the [goal line] I just took off and dove on it.”

Reber laughed and jokingly added: “Hopefully, they will take away some demerits from me for the touchdown!”

I wouldn’t count on it…

Sparky Woods, discussing matters during his media teleconference:

We would like to defeat Citadel [sic] so we could continue this reign the Big South has over the Southern Conference.

He did mention that a year from now, he might feel differently about the conference dynamics, given VMI will be in the SoCon next season. Of course, it’s not a given that Woods will be in charge of the Keydets when the school returns to the league.

VMI’s victory over Gardner-Webb was only its second win of the season, and first over a Division I opponent. Woods is in his sixth season in Lexington, and has won only 15 games during that time.

A new AD, Dave Diles, has taken over at VMI, and Diles will have a decision to make about Woods’ future after the season.

VMI is last in the Big South in the following categories: scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, offensive third down conversion rate, scoring defense, pass defense, defensive third down conversion rate, kickoff return average, kickoff coverage average, and net punting.

Keydet opponents average 6.2 yards per play. VMI is allowing an average of 35.0 points per contest.

The Keydets can point to some positives. VMI leads the Big South in passing offense (though it is next-to-last in pass efficiency), and its red zone defense is actually quite respectable (allowing 4.6 points per opponent possession inside the 20).

The negative to that red zone defense statistic is that opponents have had 47 such possessions.

VMI also has a knack for inducing penalties. I’m not sure how that happens, but VMI leads the Big South in the category, and it’s the second year in a row VMI opponents have been prone to committing infractions when facing the Keydets.

Last year, by far The Citadel’s worst game of the season in terms of penalties came at VMI. Those mistakes almost cost the Bulldogs the victory. That is something to watch on Saturday.

Redshirt senior A.J. Augustine will start at quarterback for VMI against The Citadel, the third straight start for the native of St. Petersburg. It’s too bad he’s not a native of St. Augustine.

Augustine replaced Eric Kordenbrock, who had started most of VMI’s games at the position since midway through his freshman year. He is the alltime leader in passing yardage for the Keydets.

Kordenbrock suffered a serious concussion against Presbyterian, during a play that resulted in an ejection for a Blue Hose player. As a result, Kordenbrock’s college career is over.

Running back Derrick Ziglar rushed for 94 yards and a TD against Gardner-Webb. He had rushed for 100+ yards in the previous two games, becoming the first Keydet with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in four years.

VMI’s top receiver is Sam Patterson, who is averaging 17 yards per catch. Patterson has seven touchdown receptions and has caught at least one TD pass in four of his last five games.

Earlier in the year, Patterson had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games, the first VMI player to do that since 2005.

VMI’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 289 lbs. The biggest of the group is 6’8″, 325 lb. Andy Marcotte.

The starting center for the Keydets, Will Lucas, is a native of Hartsville. He was the only VMI player named to the Big South’s preseason all-conference team.

Another Keydet who turned up on a couple of preseason “watch lists” was tight end Mario Thompson. Unfortunately, three weeks ago Thompson suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Weston Reber, the player with the potentially demerit-erasing fumble recovery against Gardner-Webb, is VMI’s leading tackler. He has one more stop than free safety Alex James.

Outside linebackers Logan Staib and Chris Harper lead the team in tackles for loss and sacks, respectively. Cornerback James Fruehan has two interceptions; seven of his teammates have one each.

VMI’s defense will line up against The Citadel in a 3-4, or a “three down look”, or a five-man front…pick your terminology.

As mentioned earlier, the Keydets have shown some improvement on D in recent weeks and won’t lack confidence from last year’s game against the Bulldogs. In that contest, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown in the second half.

VMI placekicker Dillon Christopher was named the Big South special teams player of the week for his performance against Gardner-Webb, which included a 52-yard field goal. Earlier this season, Christopher made a 45-yarder, so he’s got a strong leg. He has been a bit inconsistent, though, and is 7-12 on field goal attempts for the season.

He is also the kickoff specialist for the Keydets. Christopher has six touchbacks in 38 kickoffs this year.

David Eberhardt is averaging 39.0 yards per punt for VMI. So far this season, only one of the Keydets’ 65 punts has been blocked, which is better than VMI’s recent history in that department.

Ripped from the pages of The Citadel’s game notes…

The Citadel is 0-5 against VMI on November 16. Saturday’s date? November 16. Uh-oh.

The Bulldogs did beat Clemson on November 16, 1918. Perhaps the department of athletics should have tried to flip the dates for the VMI and Clemson games this season.

Saturday is the “Hall of Fame Game” at Johnson Hagood Stadium. This year’s honorees: Chip Cannon, Lance Hansen, Jim McMillan, Dan McDonnell, Richard Moore, and Joe Turbeville. Congratulations to all.

Richard Moore may be the least-known of the six. He probably needs to get a little more attention. Moore (class of 1953) was the rifle coach at The Citadel from 1959-62. To quote the press release:

The Bulldogs were undefeated in shoulder-to-shoulder competition during those four seasons and regularly defeated teams from Army, Navy and Air Force.  The Bulldogs finished first in the Hearst National Rifle Match, which equated to national championships, in 1959, ’60 and ’61.

Arguably the most successful coach in Citadel history, Moore’s four teams captured Southern Conference and state championships each year and along the way, three shooters – Robert Metsker ’60, David Edgerly ’62 and Keels Dickson ’62 – all earned All-America citations, becoming the first Citadel program to showcase three All-Americans.

State, conference, and national championships. That works for me.

Moore’s tenure as the rifle coach ended when he was transferred for a tour of duty in Vietnam, which serves as a reminder that the game against VMI is also Military Appreciation Day.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my preview of the VMI game might be just one sentence: “The Dogs better not lose to VMI.”

I decided a few more sentences wouldn’t hurt, but the bottom line is that this is a must-not-lose game for The Citadel.

That was true last year, too, and the Bulldogs hung on for a victory in a game that was a little too close for comfort. The Citadel can’t afford to let VMI hang around on Saturday, as the Keydets may have a little more confidence this time around that they can pull off the upset.

In a season that has been more of a struggle for The Citadel than was anticipated, it is now even more critical that the coveted Silver Shako is retained.

Of course, it’s always important to keep the greatest trophy in all of sports in Charleston, where it belongs.

Game Review, 2012: VMI

The Citadel 27, VMI 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Roanoke Times

Game story, The Post and Courier 

Note: both articles above written by Randy King of The Roanoke Times

The Citadel’s release

VMI’s release

Highlights from the game (video)

VMI postgame press conference with Sparky Woods and two players (video)

Box score

Uh, phew…

For the second week in a row, The Citadel built up a big lead only to see its opponent mount a furious comeback. For the second week in a row, the Bulldogs held on.

I don’t think anyone was truly surprised when Elon finally began scoring points in the second half of last week’s game. However, VMI should have been put away midway through the third quarter. The fact that the Keydets were one drive away from a miraculous victory is worrisome.

After Derek Douglas rumbled into the end zone with a fumble (following a sack by Mark Thomas), it was hard to imagine VMI doing much of anything in response. Not that anyone expected the Keydets to quit, but as it happens the Bulldogs helped VMI make its move.

Special teams were less than special. The Citadel should have had a sizable edge in this department, given the performances of the two teams’ kicking units during the season, but that wasn’t the case. The kickoff coverage for the Bulldogs was unacceptable, and there was also a blocked field goal attempt.

Sparky Woods said after the game that The Citadel “played better in the kicking game” than VMI, but I can’t say that I agree with him.

Then there were the penalties. I was concerned about the tendency of VMI’s opponents to commit more than their typical number of infractions, but the Bulldogs outdid themselves in a negative way, committing nine fouls for 89 yards. Seven of those penalties (and 79 of the 89 total yards) came in the second half and helped enable the Keydet comeback.

I wasn’t all that surprised VMI had some success defensively against The Citadel. I thought going into the game that the Keydet D was a bit underrated, and basically hamstrung by an ineffective offense.

However, the Bulldogs’ defense was disappointing, particularly in the second half. VMI does not have a big-play offense, but The Citadel allowed two huge pass plays (81 and 38 yards) to the Keydets that set up touchdowns.

The fumble return by Douglas was critical, and Sparky Woods has to be very tired of guys named Douglas making plays for The Citadel against his teams. However, don’t overlook Thomas Warren’s second made field goal, which pushed the margin to ten points with less than five minutes to play. The Bulldogs needed those three points.

That field goal came after The Citadel started on its own 49, a short field gifted to the Bulldogs by a “pop-up” kick that went awry. Woods said that it wasn’t really an onside kick attempt, but a placement-type kick that just wasn’t properly executed.

I questioned the play-calling (or simply the act of calling plays) at the end of the Western Carolina game. I’m going to do it again…

Aaron Miller picked up a first down for The Citadel with 2:42 remaining in the game. VMI was by then out of timeouts.

At that point, the Bulldogs could have lined up in “Victory Formation” and kneeled down three times. The clock would have run out, and The Citadel would have the victory.

However, three running plays were called instead, including two handoffs. I suppose the first down play (on which Miller kept for a four-yard loss) could be justified as ensuring the Bulldogs could run out the clock. It would have been close, though I think a run wasn’t necessary.

However, on second and third down it was clear that a kneeldown would do the trick. By that third down play, I was — well, I was upset, to be honest. I could just visualize a Joe Pisarcik-Herm Edwards situation that would be fondly remembered by Keydet fans for decades.

That didn’t happen, but it shouldn’t have been left to chance. It was the second time this season The Citadel had not properly managed the end of the game. If that keeps up, the Bulldogs will eventually get burned.

I’m not trying to be negative. After all, the Bulldogs clinched a winning season, which was the primary goal going into the 2012 campaign. The Citadel remains alive for a playoff berth, but realistically that isn’t going to happen. That’s okay, though. Beating Furman to finish 7-4 would be more than good enough for me.

It was nice to hear VMI’s band play on a regular basis during the game, as opposed to the game at Wofford (which has no band) and the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium (where the band is only occasionally allowed to play). However, someone needs to tell the band when to stop. For one thing, I think a VMI false start penalty in the second quarter could be largely attributed to the band playing as the Keydets were about to snap the ball.

I enjoyed the day in Lexington. The weather was great, and the gameday atmosphere was solid. Plenty of blue-clad supporters were on hand to cheer on the Bulldogs, coming close to filling the (admittedly small) visitors’ section of Foster Stadium.

The home side was mostly full too, a tribute to a very loyal VMI fan base. Some of those same fans traveled to Charleston for last year’s game between the two teams. They were part of arguably the most impressive (on a per capita basis, at least) group of visiting supporters, especially striking given VMI’s way-too-long stretch of gridiron futility.

Those fans deserve a winning season sooner than later, and I hope they get one. Of course, I don’t want it to come at The Citadel’s expense. I prefer that the coveted Silver Shako remain in Charleston, where it belongs.

Pictures…well, every week I write about what a lame-o photographer I am, but I may have set a new standard for ineptitude this week. What follows is the best of a sorry lot.

I took a lot of pictures of the campus and the Saturday parade. VMI is an interesting place. I firmly believe every graduate of The Citadel needs to visit VMI at least once, and vice versa.

Included are a few pictures from the lacrosse match that took place on Saturday, which raised $3,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Great job by those guys (not for the first time, either).

I also watched the women’s rugby game for a short time, which more than matched the football game for sheer brutality. There are a few pictures in the set from that contest, as well as the halftime Rugby 7s exhibition.

Besides the “action” shots at the football game, there are pictures of the marchover.

2012 Football, Week 10: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel at VMI, to be played at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, November 10.  The game can be heard on radio via the twelve affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. Danny Reed (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Josh Baker, with Lee Glaze roaming the sidelines and Walt Nadzak providing pre-game, halftime, and post-game commentary. Live video of the game will be available for a fee from the Big South Network.

Links of interest:

The Citadel game notes

VMI game notes

SoCon weekly release

FCS Coaches Poll

The Kevin Higgins Show (following the game against Elon), Part 1 and Part 2

Kevin Higgins’ 11/5 press conference quotes

Catching up with…Sadath Jean-Pierre

Sparky Woods at VMI’s Quarterback Club luncheon (with a guest appearance by VMI hoops coach Duggar Baucom)

Map of VMI campus

Saturday is going to be a busy day when it comes to athletic contests between The Citadel and VMI. Most of this post will focus on the football game, of course, but around the time the fourth quarter begins in Virginia, the Bulldog hoopsters will take on the Keydet cagers in McAlister Field House as part of the All-Military Classic.

That’s not all, though. Actually, most of the Dog vs. Roo action will occur on VMI’s campus, much of it prior to the football game.

At 10 am, there will be simultaneous competitions, both at the recently renamed Saunders Fields, a/k/a the North Post complex. On one field, there will be a women’s rugby game. On another, a men’s lacrosse match. Later in the day, following the football game, there will be a men’s rugby game at the North Post.

Admission to those matches is free, with donations going to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Anyone who is heading to VMI for the football game ought to check out these contests as well, particularly the lacrosse match, which should be a spirited affair. An additional way to support the teams and the SOWF: buying t-shirts and hats.

Another benefit to watching the Bulldogs’ lacrosse team is getting to see their snazzy uniforms in person, as they know how to wear camo. This includes the helmets.

I wrote extensively about VMI’s gridiron struggles last year. This season for the Keydets has been more of the same, and I’m not inclined to repeat what I wrote before. Some quick observations:

– VMI is 2-7, 1-4 in the Big South. The two victories have come against Chowan and Presbyterian. Both of those wins came at Foster Stadium; on the road, the Keydets are 0-5. Average score of those five losses: 35-8. VMI will be more than happy to host The Citadel this Saturday.

– Through nine games this season, VMI has only had 20 offensive plays that resulted in a gain of 20+ yards. By way of comparison, The Citadel has had 38 such plays. The Keydets have only had one rushing play of more than 20 yards all year.

Of those 20 “big plays” for VMI, only six have gone for 30 or more yards, the same number of 30-yard+ plays The Citadel had in its victory over Appalachian State.

– VMI is 0-7 when trailing at halftime, despite the fact that the Keydets have only suffered two early blowouts (against Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook). VMI has hung around in most of its losses, generally trailing by about ten points at the break.

The reason the Keydets haven’t been able to mount a few successful comebacks is simple: VMI can’t score (10.6 ppg).

– Sparky Woods spoke at VMI’s Quarterback Club luncheon about the Keydets’ most recent game, the 45-7 loss at Stony Brook (you can see that at one of the above links). He also discussed the matchup during the Big South teleconference, but Woods was speaking to a different audience in Lexington and his comments reflected that.

He seemed to emphasize the transient nature of Stony Brook’s roster when talking to the QC, saying something to the effect that VMI did not face many players actually recruited out of high school by the Seawolves, but rather a squad made up largely of transfers, including a former Iowa running back and refugees from Hofstra’s now-disbanded program.

I don’t think Woods was being defensive; rather, he appeared to be matter-of-factly explaining the way of the world to his audience. Stony Brook’s football program is leaving the Big South after this season, and because of that it may have been easier for Woods to outline the differences between the two squads.

– Since Stony Brook is leaving the Big South, I have a suggestion for the VMI administration: go ahead and take advantage of the extra non-conference game created by the Seawolves’ departure by scheduling an easy win.

VMI desperately needs to get that “no winning seasons since 1981” monkey off its back. The simplest way to do that is to schedule as many sure-thing victories as possible.

If the Big South is going to be a six-member league in football for a while, that means the Keydets will play five conference games each season. I’m assuming VMI needs to schedule a “guarantee” game each year. The remaining five contests, though, ought to include The Citadel and four teams the Keydets should expect to beat.

I realize VMI has long-cherished rivalries with Richmond and William & Mary (although the Tribe is not on the schedule this season), but I think it is more important long-term for Keydet football to develop some momentum, and to do that VMI needs to win some games. Right now, VMI is not going to pick up victories against those two schools (the Spiders won this year’s meeting in Lexington 47-6, the tenth straight win for UR in the series since VMI joined the Big South).

I think VMI should try to get four out-of-conference “gimmes” on the slate. Win those, pick off a couple of Big South opponents (more than manageable), and suddenly the Keydets wind up with a winning season.

– VMI has a new defensive coordinator this year, Jeff Farrington. He is a 1982 graduate of The Citadel, and is thus part of a semi-tradition of sort: grads from one of the military colleges coaching at the other (like Bobby Ross and Cal McCombs).

– This will be the second time VMI has faced a triple option team this season. The Keydets played Navy earlier in the year, losing 41-3. VMI trailed by just ten points (13-3) at halftime of that game, partly because Navy shot itself in the foot on multiple occasions, but also because the Keydet D played fairly well in the first half.

Considering that fifteen of the twenty-two players on VMI’s defensive two-deep are freshmen, sophomores, or redshirt sophomores, that wasn’t a bad effort. Nosetackle Charlie Jones and left end Shawn Chapman are the only seniors on VMI’s depth chart for defense.

VMI lined up against Navy in a five-man front, just as it did against The Citadel last season. For an extensive and excellent explanation of how the Keydets defended the triple option, and what Navy did to combat what they were doing, I highly recommend The Birddog’s post about the game, complete with video analysis:

VMI spent the game in a 5-man front, which meant that we saw a lot of zone dives and zone options. The coaches like to run the zone dive against odd fronts– or any front where the defense has someone lined up directly across from the center– because it’s an easy read for the fullback. The fullback reads the DT and runs to the opposite side of the center that the DT plays.

Navy actually didn’t run a lot of “true” triple option plays in that game, because of how VMI was playing defense.

– VMI has had the same starting eleven on defense in all but one game this season. One of those starters, free safety Adam Morgan, saw action against The Citadel last season as a quarterback, backing up Eric Kordenbrock.

Morgan was the Big South defensive player of the week on October 8 after intercepting two passes against Presbyterian. He is the only Keydet to receive league player of the week honors this season.

– At Kevin Higgins’ weekly press conference, the two Bulldog football players who spoke to the media were defensive lineman Bay Amrhein and offensive guard Jim Knowles. I was reminded again that there is a significant element of educational/life experience in intercollegiate athletics when Knowles (a native of Florida) said the trip to VMI would be the first time he had ever been that far north.

– Higgins noted that the Keydets lead the Big South in pass attempts. What he was polite enough not to say was that while VMI does lead that league in pass attempts, it is only fourth in the Big South in completed passes.

VMI is last in the Big South in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, and red zone offense. It is next-to-last in offensive pass efficiency, first downs made, turnover margin, and penalties committed.

Kevin Higgins singled out Keydet wide receiver James Rogers as someone to watch. Rogers is actually listed as a backup on the two-deep, but leads the team with 32 receptions, including an 80-yard TD grab against Gardner-Webb.

– The Keydets are not strong in special teams play. VMI is last in the Big South in kickoff return average and net punting, and next-to-last in kickoff coverage. The Keydets have only converted four of nine field goal attempts. What VMI is fairly good at is returning punts.

Fans who attended last year’s game at Johnson Hagood Stadium between these two teams will remember that VMI’s punt unit was — well, it was terrible, to be honest. The Citadel blocked three punts in that game.

This year VMI has tightened things up, only allowing one blocked punt all season.

– Conference opponents have committed more penalties against VMI than any other Big South team, which suggests that sloppy play can be viral. The Bulldogs have to be careful on that front after committing a higher-than-normal number of penalties against Elon.

Should The Citadel win this game on Saturday? Yes. Is it a lock? Absolutely not.

I can recall a few VMI teams a lot worse than this year’s edition giving The Citadel a hard time. I remember 1986 and 1989 all too well (especially 1986, the game that sealed Tom Moore’s fate as head coach of the Bulldogs).

That’s the nature of a true rivalry. People remember plays that happened decades ago, like Brian Ruff’s stop to clinch the 1975 game, or the back-to-back TD runs by Gene Brown in 1988.

I won’t be surprised at all if Triple O’Higgins struggles in the first half against VMI’s defense, which is probably better than its statistics suggest. The Bulldogs need to remain patient on both sides of the ball. The Citadel also must take advantage of its solid edge in the kicking game.

This is a big game, not just because the coveted Silver Shako is on the line, but because a victory would clinch a winning season for The Citadel. If the Bulldogs finish with at least six wins, they will have accomplished their primary goal.

I think it’s going to be tougher than expected on Saturday for the Bulldogs. VMI will be ready to play. A win over The Citadel will make the Keydets’ season.

It will be a challenge. The Citadel must meet that challenge.