2021 Spring Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on April 3, 2021. 

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

– SoCon weekly release (when available)

– Preview on The Citadel’s website (when available)

– Preview on Wofford’s website (when available)

“Live stats” online platform

This will not be my standard writeup, for a couple of reasons. First, the events of this week from a conference perspective made writing your typical game preview seem less than relevant.

The second reason is that WordPress has now forcibly converted this blog to its new editing system, and I have really struggled to get a handle on it. I might be done with WordPress. (And yes, I might be done with blogging for a while, too.)

For now, I am going to stick to writing what amounts to an essay on the state of SoCon football in 2021, beginning with Chattanooga waving goodbye to the spring football season.

After Chattanooga announced it was “opting out” of the rest of the spring football campaign, the SoCon released a very short statement:

The Southern Conference supports Chattanooga in its decision to discontinue its 2020-21 football season as it is left unable to field a sufficient number of players at several position groups to meet the conference’s COVID-19 guidelines. The Mocs’ remaining scheduled games will be recorded as no-contests.

Also a no-contest: any attempt by the SoCon to compel Chattanooga to complete its schedule. At least a couple of media sources have suggested that the Mocs never had any intention of actually completing the spring campaign; those pundits believe that UTC’s move was a fait accompli from the time the season started.

Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright was one of the leading voices in the “spring skeptics” camp, and he appears to have been supported in that viewpoint by his administration. The shutdown wasn’t cleanly executed, however; the bizarre decision to play almost no starters in UTC’s final game (against Mercer) appears to have been a bit impromptu.

As outlined by Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free-Press:

On Monday, the combination of academic classload and concern for the unknown toll that could be inflicted on players’ bodies from potentially playing as many as 19 combined games this spring and fall, led “around 30” players — according to university sources to opt out of the remaining spring season...

Early in [Chattanooga’s game against Furman], the Mocs lost starting center Kyle Miskelley to a lower body injury. Miskelley had become the unofficial offensive line coach, since the Mocs didn’t have a coach at that position, and was beloved by his position mates as well as other teammates.

“That was the nail in the coffin,” Wright told the Times Free Press Monday.

Most of the veteran players attempted to opt out after that Furman game, with Wright again having to convince them to stay, albeit to handle scout-team work as it had been decided that younger players would play exclusively against Mercer last Saturday.

The SoCon drew some criticism for its eight-games-in-nine-weeks spring slate, in part because of the large number of games the schools would wind up playing in 2021 as a result (and also because it didn’t build any real schedule “buffers” in case of COVID issues). Nobody should be surprised that a lot of players weren’t overly excited about playing that many games in a calendar year.

The spring games have also arguably been a hindrance to long-term player development. Instead of the standard work done on the field (and in the weight room), coaches and players are having to prepare for weekly contests.

The reality is that the conference was split in terms of schools wanting to play in the spring, versus those that preferred waiting until fall 2021. Chattanooga was clearly in the latter camp.

The Mocs aren’t the only FCS school to have stopped playing this spring. So have Cal Poly, Illinois State, and Albany. There will almost certainly be more schools that do the same. The rumblings can even be heard in Fargo:

An ill-advised spring football season that until a few days ago looked like a farce from afar looks like a close-up farce now.

When they are debating the value of continuing the season in the heart of Bison country, you know something is up.

I am not sure why UTC just didn’t sit out the spring season entirely; perhaps there was pressure brought to bear by the conference, which presumably wanted all of its schools to move in the same direction. If that were in fact the case, it was a mistake (as was the effort to play a complete round-robin spring slate).

My only real criticism of Chattanooga is that it fielded what amounted to a ‘B’ team against Mercer, an act not really in the spirit of what could be called “competitive integrity” (although your mileage could definitely vary on that subject). It could potentially have an impact on the conference title race, which would be a nightmare for the SoCon.

There is a scenario in which the top of the league standings going into the final week of the season look like this:

  • VMI: 5-1 (scheduled to host The Citadel)
  • Mercer: 5-2 (scheduled to play at Samford)

In that situation, a loss by VMI and a Mercer victory would result in the league crown and auto-bid heading to Macon, with the difference in the records being Mercer’s win over Chattanooga (as the Keydets’ matchup with the Mocs has been declared a no-contest, per the SoCon).

Furman also has a possible route to the title, but its loss to UTC is problematic – especially because VMI and ETSU didn’t play Chattanooga (and a no-contest, while not as good as a win, is still better than a loss). I should note that the Paladins are a solid favorite (10 points) at Mercer this week.

There is also a possibility that East Tennessee State’s postponed game at Wofford could be very important in the league standings, as the Buccaneers are very much in the picture for the conference crown (and are a 1-point favorite at VMI on Saturday). The Terriers are supposed to play at Furman on the final weekend, while ETSU’s scheduled game against Chattanooga has been canceled. Would the league sideline the Paladins and have Wofford host ETSU instead if the latter matchup proves potentially consequential?

Now, if VMI beats East Tennessee State on Saturday, none of those would-be storylines will happen, as the Keydets would clinch the championship. That would undoubtedly be a relief to certain individuals within the league hierarchy.

VMI is one of the schools that wanted to play in the spring. From what I can gather, East Tennessee State, Furman, and Mercer were probably in that group as well, along with Wofford – although there might have been mixed feelings even in that cohort.

Furman’s coaching staff clearly believed the Paladins were capable of winning the league and having success in the FCS playoffs, which likely helped drive their position. VMI and Wofford also had promising teams — but their senior classes would only have the spring to compete for their respective institutions, as neither has a graduate school.

One other thing VMI and Wofford have in common is that it is relatively unusual for players to transfer into their football programs from other schools. That was surely also a factor in wanting to compete in the spring, although it turned out to be a double-edged sword – at least for Wofford.

The transfer portal can be a very difficult thing to navigate in the best of circumstances. When a school loses players to the portal but is not really in a position to receive other players in return (so to speak), it can be a real challenge.

Just this week, Wofford lost two of its top offensive players, who both elected to enter the portal. Each player had actually been listed on the two-deep for Saturday’s game against The Citadel (the game notes have since been changed to adjust the depth chart).

Of course, the Terriers already have had one game postponed this season (the aforementioned contest versus ETSU) because of a shortage of defensive linemen. In a newspaper article by Eric Boynton from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, Wofford head coach Josh Conklin was outspoken about what he sees as a clear competitive disadvantage between schools that can bring in numerous transfers and those which cannot:

“The reality of our situation right now is it’s going to be a tightrope every game,” Conklin said. “It’s going to be can we put six guys at defensive line to play. It’s a compound issue at one position and here we sit. The thing you battle as a head coach is you grind those guys through it and they don’t have a year to recover. They’ve got to make decisions on, ‘Do I get my surgery now and miss these games that are coming up or do I wait until the end of the season, get my surgery and have to miss half the season in the fall?’

“These are the issues we’ve talked about in theory, but now we’re here and it’s reality. We have 63 scholarships, we don’t have 85 and that’s a huge difference. Those are the issues you have when you’re trying to play a season in the spring and then turn around and play one in the fall and you have some injuries.”

…The Terriers looked at the transfer portal but found nobody who was a fit for the program both on the field and academically.

“That’s the reality,” Conklin said. “It’s disappointing and frustrating, especially when you look at a Chattanooga who had 30-something transfers I think and some of those guys were graduate transfers. Kennesaw State has somewhere between five and six grad transfers. Those are the things at our level that will have to be addressed at some point in time or it’s going to be an unfair advantage.”

I’m sure the league office was less than thrilled that Conklin specifically called out a fellow conference member. It could also be argued that when it comes to the issue of player movement, Conklin is not the ideal spokesman, given his tendency in recent months to throw his hat in the ring for just about every open FBS defensive coordinator job.

Conklin’s complaint is a reflection of a longstanding issue within the SoCon. The league has historically been a hodgepodge of schools, often with little in common other than geography (and sometimes not even that). At times, the different missions and sizes of the institutions are at odds with one another.

In this case, the conflict is between a small, private college (Wofford) and a larger, public commuter university (Chattanooga). It is no surprise that they might differ on smaller or larger points when it comes to roster construction for a football team.

What has usually happened in the league is that schools which eventually get too “large” for the conference (West Virginia, East Carolina, Marshall) eventually leave for more like-minded conferences. Sometimes, smaller schools depart as well, though in those cases the reasons are more institution-specific (Washington and Lee de-emphasized athletics; Davidson’s administration decided scholarship football was a fascist enterprise).

The bottom line is this: as I have said before (and will happily say again), being a member of the Southern Conference means accepting the differences that exist in the league schools, getting on the bus, and going to the game.

Is it time for The Citadel to pull the plug on this spring season?

Brent Thompson firmly says no:

“…I still think it is worth it to play for a lot of reasons, and some of them may just be personal reasons.

“Some of them are, we’re getting better, we’re improving. We’re playing a lot of our younger guys anyway, so let’s give those guys an opportunity. We’re playing some guys who are walk-ons, who are on partial scholarship and they are fighting their butts off. At this point, I think we’re more playing for the fall, but I certainly do think it’s worth it.

…Thompson said young players develop faster in games than they would in a normal spring practice.

“You look at (fullback) Nathan Storch, he’s getting better every single day,” Thompson said. “He’s had some really good days and some tough days in there … The only way to do it is to go in there and get live reps.”

Thompson doesn’t seem likely to pull the plug. Remember, he’s the coach who refused to shorten the second half of last year’s game at No. 1 Clemson, despite trailing 49-0 at the half.

I agree with the coach. At this point, I don’t see any reason to end the season. The Citadel made a commitment to play the spring schedule, whatever the misgivings of the school’s administration and coaches might have been, and the Bulldogs should complete the slate. The only caveat would be if circumstances dictated that it is unsafe to do so.

So, barring something unforeseen, the Bulldogs will play Wofford this Saturday in Spartanburg. It should be clear and cool (about 60°).

The Terriers are a 7½-point favorite, with an over/under of 48.

I don’t have any significant observations to make about the game. I am hopeful that The Citadel’s offense will not turn the ball over every other possession (seven turnovers on 15 full drives versus Samford). Just cleaning up some of the mistakes should result in a much more competitive contest.

I can’t be in Spartanburg (the first time I’ve missed a game there involving The Citadel in many years), but I’ll be rooting hard for this group of players. They deserve all the support Bulldog fans can muster.

One other thing: this is probably the last blog post of this abbreviated spring season (regardless of sport). As I mentioned above, I’m having some technical problems with the platform. I also have some issues with time, to be quite honest.

I don’t know yet what I will do in the summer/fall. I might continue my traditional previews and statistical analysis posts, but if so, the formatting could change. Or it might remain the same. I have no idea.

I just hope that the world of sports has returned to something approaching normalcy by the time football season rolls around (again). That’s more important than any blog, anyway.

Go Dogs!

2021 Spring Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 27, 2021.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Dave Weinstein will handle play-by-play, while Jason Kempf supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

Darique Hampton gets his shot

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Samford’s website

– The Chris Hatcher Show

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– “Live Stats” online platform

In this section, I establish the traditional ground rules for writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”. The SoCon did not require Samford to change its nickname in order to gain entry into the league, a ridiculous oversight.

Regardless, for the purposes of this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. The reason: I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll call Samford “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, the “Crimson Bulldogs”, the “Baptist Tigers”, or the “Baptist Bears”.

I’m going to mostly copy/paste something I previously wrote about Samford’s history in the next couple of sections. (If you had the week I’ve had, you would be looking for shortcuts, too.)

For those of you reading this who are somehow unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers/Bears, here is a quick review (the site I took this blurb from is currently offline):

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers”. However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears”. Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

I really don’t understand why the students thought bears wouldn’t eat as much meat as bulldogs. Were Alabama’s bears back then strict vegetarians? Could it be that bears from all regions were not as physically imposing then as they are now? That would put a different slant on Paul “Bear” Bryant’s nickname, wouldn’t it?

We’ll never know. The mysteries of early-20th century university life remain largely unsolved.

Birmingham-Southern, by the way, is a Division III school (which was very briefly in NCAA Division I about 15 years ago) and a former rival of Samford. The two schools played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, on November 19, 1927. Samford (then Howard) won, 9-0.

While Legion Field was obviously close to home, in those days the Samford football program liked to travel. During the 1920s, SU played Duquesne in Pittsburgh (at Forbes Field) and North Dakota (in Grand Forks). There were even out-of-country junkets to Cuba (playing the Havana National University). Later, Samford played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico (in 1954 and 1963).

For you legal nerds out there: Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961. That doesn’t happen very often; in fact, in terms of moving a law school across state lines, I’m not sure it has ever happened anywhere else.

I am aware of only two other law schools that shifted to different universities (both in-state) — the University of Puget Sound School of Law, which is now part of Seattle University; and the law school at the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, which is now affiliated with Quinnipiac University.

I’m sure Quinnipiac polled the surrounding area for its opinion before acquiring the law school.

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Samford above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools playing (Furman is off this week):

Participation report:

The Citadel had 41 players see action in the game versus East Tennessee State, an increase of six from the previous week. The Buccaneers had 46 participants.

Breaking down the Bulldogs’ numbers a little further: nine players had rushes/receptions, while 18 players recorded tackles.

Samford used 58 players last week against VMI (with 47 Keydets seeing the field).

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for its matchup with Samford, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 3
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 1
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 1

There were a few alterations to the depth chart from last week, though for the most part it remained unchanged.

Here is a breakdown of Samford’s projected depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 11
  • Sophomores: 14
  • Juniors: 9
  • Seniors: 7
  • Graduate students: 9

SU does not identify players by redshirt status, so these numbers reflect eligibility more so than age or high school entry class. The graduate student classification includes mostly players who have played at Samford, graduated from that school, and retained at least one year of eligibility; the exception on the two-deep in this respect is defensive lineman Seth Simmer, a graduate transfer from Dartmouth.

It is perhaps a touch inconsistent to list graduate students and seniors separately without also listing redshirt status for other classes, but that is a very small point.

Samford does supplement its roster with transfers from other four-year schools (there are also two players who are products of junior colleges). The four-year schools represented on the Birmingham Bulldogs’ squad via transfer include Army, Ball State, Dartmouth, Jacksonville State, Kent State, Morehead State, North Carolina State, Sioux Falls, Southern Mississippi, South Florida, TCU, Texas Tech, and Vanderbilt.

SU is 2-3 so far this spring (the Crimson Bulldogs did not compete in the fall). The running theme for Samford has been taking a lead, then trying to hang on for the victory. It has not been entirely successful in doing that:

  • Samford jumped out to a 14-0 lead at ETSU and led 17-14 entering the 4th quarter, but the Bucs scored 10 points in the final period and won 24-17.
  • SU was ahead 41-27 after three quarters against Western Carolina, and then added two more touchdowns for a 55-27 victory.
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs led Furman 24-7 after the 1st quarter, and were still ahead 37-23 early in the 4th, but the Paladins tied the game on a 73-yard TD pass with 2:59 to play and eventually won 44-37 in OT.
  • Samford turned the tables on Wofford, coming back from an early 10-point deficit to outlast the Terriers 37-31.
  • Last week, Samford led VMI 30-17 with less than six minutes to play, but allowed two late TDs and lost in overtime, 38-37.

Not-so-random stat: Samford is the only team to return a punt for a touchdown in league play so far in 2021. Montrell Washington (who also starts at wide receiver for the Baptist Bears) took a punt 55 yards to the house against Furman.

SU also ranks second in the league in average kickoff return yardage.

(All statistics below are sack-adjusted and are for spring games only.)

Offensively, Samford is passing on 56.2% of its plays from scrimmage, averaging 7.31 yards per attempt, with 9 TDs against 6 interceptions. That yards per attempt is second-best in the SoCon (Chattanooga leads in the category). The Citadel’s defense is allowing 8.10 yards per attempt, worst in the league.

SU is averaging 4.79 yards per rush, third-best in the conference (trailing Wofford and Western Carolina). The Bulldogs’ defense is allowing 4.60 yards per rush, sixth-best in the SoCon.

Defensively, the Baptist Tigers allow 6.41 yards per pass attempt, which ranks fourth-best in the league. It should be noted that the three teams in front of Samford in that category have all played The Citadel, which offensively has the worst yards/pass attempt in the conference (3.46).

SU’s defense allows 4.83 yards per rush, third-worst in the SoCon (ahead of Mercer and Western Carolina). The Citadel’s offense is fifth in the league in yards per rush (4.29).

The Citadel has run the football on 81.7% of its offensive plays from scrimmage.

Samford’s offensive third down conversion rate is 39.0%, sixth-best in the SoCon. The Citadel’s defensive third down conversion rate is 33.3%, second-best in the league (Furman leads in that category).

SU is third in the conference in defensive third down conversion rate (34.1%), while The Citadel’s offensive is converting third downs at a 46.3% clip (second-best in the league).

The Citadel is the league’s most-penalized team, and its opponents are penalized more than any other league team’s opponents — which is to say that officials like throwing yellow flags around when the Bulldogs are on the field.

Samford, conversely, is a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of its own penalties, and draws fewer opponents’ flags than any other SoCon squad.

The Citadel leads the league in time of possession (no surprise), while SU is actually not last in time of possession (big surprise). The Crimson Bulldogs are seventh.

SU is second in the SoCon in turnover margin (+2), while The Citadel is tied for last (-3).

Samford has an offensive Red Zone TD rate of 50.0%, tied for the worst in the league. The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone TD rate is 70.0%, tied for sixth in the conference.

The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone TD rate is 78.6%, third-best in the SoCon. SU’s defensive Red Zone TD rate of 65.0% ranks fifth in the league.

In general, when it comes to the Red Zone, Samford has settled for too many field goal attempts this season — but so have its opponents.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, and a high of 80°.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford (as of March 24) is a 10½-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 61½.

Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 24): VMI is a 4-point favorite at Wofford (over/under of 44½); Chattanooga is a 7½-point favorite over Mercer (over/under of 44½); and East Tennessee State is a 14½-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 44).

A few more games of note in FCS: San Diego is a 17½-point favorite at Presbyterian; Davidson is a 7½-point favorite over Morehead State; Charleston Southern is a 3-point favorite at Monmouth; James Madison is a 17½-point favorite at William and Mary; Drake is a 15½-point favorite at Stetson; North Dakota State is a 21½-point favorite at South Dakota; Richmond is an 11-point favorite over Elon; Northern Iowa is a 4-point favorite at Western Illinois; and Jacksonville State is a 10-point favorite over Austin Peay (with that game one of seven FCS contests being played on Sunday).

– Samford’s notable alumni include actor Tony Hale (of Veep and Arrested Development fame), opera singer Elizabeth Futral, and longtime college football coach Bobby Bowden.

Two quotes from Bobby Bowden:

On his defense and its tendency to hit quarterbacks late: “We just hit until the echo [of the whistle] instead of the whistle.”

On why he didn’t suspend placekicker Sebastian Janikowski from the national title game (in the Sugar Bowl) when it was discovered that Janikowski had stayed out all night in New Orleans: “Well, he’s from Poland and he falls under the ‘International Rules’.”

– The Citadel is 7-6 in the all-time series against Samford. The Cadets have won three of the last four games played in Charleston.

– The Crimson Bulldogs’ 111-man roster includes 32 players from Alabama. Other states represented: Georgia (31 players), Florida (12), Tennessee (11), Mississippi (6), North Carolina (3), Arkansas (2), Indiana (2), Louisiana (2), Ohio (2), South Carolina (2), Texas (2), and one each from California, Missouri, New York, and Virginia.

SU’s punter, Bradley Porcellato, is from Melbourne, Australia.

– The two Palmetto State products on the Baptist Tigers’ squad are freshman placekicker Henry Bishop (who went to Spartanburg High School) and graduate transfer defensive lineman Connor Koch, a TCU alumnus who played high school football for Woodberry Forest in Virginia. Koch’s hometown is listed as Charleston, S.C.

Alas, no Samford player can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s fabled football fortress, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The failure of the Baptist Bears to recruit anyone who has worn the famed maroon and orange is a symbol of SU’s impending dissolution as a gridiron concern. The future of pigskin does not look bright in Birmingham, or in its surrounding suburbs.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 27. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 22-1 (5-0 in the SoCon). On March 21, The Citadel won its second straight game against LeMoyne, 5-2. Brad Stowell got the win, while Gettys Glaze picked up the save. The decisive blow came in the sixth inning, when Jason Rychlick hit his first career home run, a two-run shot. Rychlick had been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement; he had earlier that week spent time in the infirmary, suffering from the flu.

The Citadel then hosted Furman for a three-game series at College Park. On Saturday, March 24, the Bulldogs swept a doubleheader from the Paladins, 3-1 and 3-0. Both were complete-game victories on the hill, pitched by Ken Britt and Richard Shirer respectively. Shirer allowed just two hits en route to his shutout. The first game featured a two-hit, two-RBI effort from Chris Coker, including a bases-loaded double.

With the two wins, the Bulldogs established a new school record for consecutive victories.

The next day, The Citadel completed the series sweep with a 3-2 win. Billy Baker garnered the decision with 7 1/3 strong innings, striking out 10. Glaze finished the game to earn the save. Anthony Jenkins homered, and Tony Skole scored on a double by Rychlick. The other Bulldog run was scored by Dan McDonnell after a wild pitch.

On March 26, The Citadel defeated Kent State 13-3 for its 26th straight victory. It would prove to be the last win in the streak. The game was tied in the bottom of the seventh, when the Bulldogs erupted for eight runs, highlighted by a Jenkins grand slam. Stowell was the winning pitcher. Chris Lemonis started at DH and went 1 for 3, picking up one of his two hits that season.

The next day, the Bulldogs lost to Kent State, 2-1, ending the longest winning streak (26 games) in school history.

The Citadel was 5-1 during the week ending March 27. The overall record stood at 27-2 (8-0 SoCon).

I don’t really have much else to say. The Citadel has been snakebit this season, but it has at times earned those wounds.

This week presents yet another challenge, with the strong possibility of a new starting quarterback. Darique Hampton looked solid in his appearance against ETSU, which should make fans of the Bulldogs feel a little better about things.

The Citadel must make Samford earn its points. The defense cannot allow the soul-crushing big plays that have come all too often this season.

On the other hand, the offense needs a few long gainers of its own. I know I constantly focus on the Bulldogs’ lack of big plays on offense, but that is because the topic is important. The Citadel is not consistently putting the ball in the end zone on its longer drives, which makes getting yards in bunches even more necessary.

I’m ready for a victory. We all are.

2021 Spring Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at Western Carolina, to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on March 13, 2021. 

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Daniel Hooker will handle play-by-play, while Dan Gibson supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

Links of interest:

– Jaylan Adams shows his potential

Spring football is different

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Western Carolina’s website (when available)

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– “Live Stats” online platform

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Western Carolina above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools (except for Chattanooga’s, as the Mocs are off this Saturday):

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for the game against Western Carolina, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

There was actually a change from the two-deep for the Chattanooga game, as someone apparently decided that not including Nathan Storch on the depth chart this week would have been a bit too obvious.

Look, I appreciate receiving information about the program as much as anyone, but it would be better if that information was at least reasonably accurate. Releasing depth charts that bear little relation to the actual on-field activity is not particularly helpful.

I don’t think anyone is giving away state secrets by listing these players, either. Any opponent is unlikely to gather sensitive information via the school’s game notes. Besides, if anyone wants to know the status of, for example, the Bulldogs’ middle linebacker, all that person had to do this week was read the newspaper article that directly quoted Brent Thompson.

Also, I don’t think anyone is fooled by the mysterious “Desitin Mack” who has appeared on the two-deep at punt returner in every edition of The Citadel’s game notes this spring season. He looks a lot like Bulldogs starting cornerback Destin Mack. In fact, they wear the same uniform number.

Then there is the participation list, which for the Chattanooga game included at least one player who did not appear in the contest (and going by Brent Thompson’s comments, there were several others listed who were not participants).

That is a bigger problem than two-deep inaccuracies, as participation lists are supposed to be official records. Those fans of The Citadel with long memories will remember a time many years ago when a question of participation became a subject of controversy.

Bulldogs beat writer Jeff Hartsell noted that he had “never heard of” Nathan Storch prior to last Saturday’s game. After intensive research, however, it has been determined that by virtue of his 19-carry performance against UTC, the freshman from Dorman High School in Spartanburg is already the third most famous Storch in recorded history. His fame only lags behind music producer Scott Storch and legendary comedian/actor Larry Storch (a/k/a Corporal Agarn and Cool Cat).

Given his promising debut, I like Nathan Storch’s chances of eventually moving into second place in this category. He admittedly has a lot of ground to cover in order to pass Larry Storch (who incidentally is still alive as of this writing, at age 98).

Updated career points scored by Bulldogs on the active spring roster:

Here are a few Raleigh Webb career statistics to consider:

– Webb has now played in 40 games for The Citadel. He has 20 TDs from the WR position (18 receiving, 2 rushing), so he averages a TD every other game as a receiver in an option offense.

– He has 70 career receptions, which means he has scored a touchdown every 3.9 receptions. He has averaged 21.3 yards per reception.

– Webb also has one kickoff return TD, and one 2-point conversion.

Only Andre Roberts has scored more points from the wide receiver position as a Bulldog.

Western Carolina’s listed depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 12
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 4
  • Sophomores: 7
  • Redshirt sophomores: 9
  • Juniors: 6
  • Redshirt juniors: 6
  • Seniors: 3
  • Redshirt seniors: 3
  • Graduate students: 1

The graduate student is starting quarterback Ryan Glover (who did his undergraduate work at Penn).

Western Carolina has struggled in its three spring games, losing 35-7 at Furman, 55-27 at Samford, and 30-7 last week against VMI (the Catamounts’ first home game of the 2021 campaign).

WCU ranks last in league play in both rush defense and pass defense, but just next-to-last in pass defense efficiency. As you might expect, The Citadel is last in that stat after its defense allowed 75-yard TD tosses to open each of its two SoCon contests.

Of course, rush/pass defense are both volume categories; it is more pertinent to note that the Catamounts are allowing 5.51 yards per rush (sack-adjusted). While it is one thing to allow 5 yards per carry to Furman, with the Paladins being essentially a run-first outfit, it is quite another to allow 7 yards per rush attempt to pass-happy Samford — and the Birmingham Bulldogs had six rushing TDs as well.

Offensively, Western Carolina is averaging 3.83 yards per rush and 5.89 yards per pass attempt (again, all stats are sack-adjusted). The Catamounts have two TD passes and have thrown three interceptions.

WCU ranks last in the league in both offensive (21.6%) and defensive (50.0%) third down conversion rate, and also trails the pack in time of possession (24:03). Western Carolina has committed more penalties per game than any team in the league except for (naturally) The Citadel.

On the bright side, the Catamounts have yet to lose a fumble and are break-even in turnover margin, as the defense has intercepted three passes in the three conference games.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Cullowhee, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of rain, with a high of 68°.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel (as of March 11) is a 14-point favorite at Western Carolina. The over/under is 50½.

– Other SoCon lines this week (as of March 11): Wofford is a 1-point favorite at Samford (over/under of 55); VMI is a 6½-point favorite over Mercer (over/under of 57); and Furman is a 10½-point favorite at East Tennessee State (over/under of 47).

A few more games of note in FCS: South Carolina State is a 10½-point favorite over Delaware State; Presbyterian is a 6½-point favorite over Morehead State; Holy Cross is a 7½-point favorite at Lehigh; Delaware is a 7½-point favorite over Stony Brook; Villanova is a 14½-point favorite over Rhode Island; Davidson is a 9½-point favorite at Stetson; Kennesaw State is a 16-point favorite over Charleston Southern; Northern Iowa is a 4-point favorite at Southern Illinois; Colgate is a 5½-point favorite at Lafayette; Eastern Washington is a 17-point favorite at Idaho State; and North Dakota State is a 12½-point favorite over Illinois State.

– Western Carolina’s notable alumni include triple option advocate Paul Johnson, comedian Rich Hall, and college basketball pioneer Ronnie Carr.

– The Citadel is 26-17-1 against Western Carolina in the all-time series.

– Western Carolina’s 97-man spring roster includes 49 players from North Carolina. Other states represented: South Carolina (19), Georgia (17), Alabama (4), Tennessee (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Florida, Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania.

– Among conference schools, I believe Western Carolina is tied with VMI for having the fewest Florida natives on its roster (one).

– The following South Carolina high schools have graduates on WCU’s squad: Byrnes (3 players), Blythewood (3), Lakewood, Ridge View, Greer, Irmo, Hartsville, T.L. Hanna, Northwestern, Branchville, Wilson, Indian Land, Clover, Gilbert, and White Knoll.

– While there are plenty of Palmetto State products on WCU’s squad, none can claim to be an alumnus of the internationally renowned pigskin factory that is Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Western Carolina will never reach the heights of 1983 again if it does not correct this shocking oversight. Ronnie Carr is simply appalled, as well he should be.

The incredible individuals who wear the famed maroon and orange are simply must-gets for any college football recruiting operation.

– WCU has four players who transferred in from four-year schools; those schools are Penn, Boston College, South Carolina State, and Western Kentucky. There are also six junior college transfers on the roster.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on March 13. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 10-1. On March 7, The Citadel won at Coastal Carolina, 7-3. Billy Baker pitched six innings and got the win; he also went 3 for 5 at the plate, with two doubles. Anthony Jenkins’ two-run double capped a four-run rally in the eighth inning.

The following day, the Bulldogs whipped Liberty 10-3. Chris Coker drove in five runs, while the red-hot Jenkins homered again.

That set up a big 3-game series to open SoCon play against Western Carolina. The Citadel swept the Catamounts, winning the three games by scores of 6-3, 7-3, and 10-3 (which made five straight games in which the Bulldogs’ opponents scored exactly three runs).

In a doubleheader sweep to open the series, Ken Britt and Richard Shirer both picked up wins, each striking out five batters. In the first game, Hank Kraft earned the save, his third of the season. Jenkins and Gettys Glaze had two-hit games in both contests.

The third game featured a 4-RBI afternoon from Tony Skole, including a two-run triple in the first inning. Baker (the winning pitcher), Jenkins, Phil Tobin, and Dan McDonnell also drove in runs for the Bulldogs.

On March 13, The Citadel rallied from an 8-4 deficit to beat George Mason, 9-8. The game was shortened to eight innings due to darkness (College Park still did not have lights at this time because of Hurricane Hugo). The Bulldogs only had three hits — all singles — but walked nine times, and took full advantage of five errors by the Patriots. Glaze got the win in relief.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending March 13, with a winning streak of fifteen games. The overall record stood at 16-1 (3-0 SoCon).

This was not a long preview, partly because I didn’t have a lot of time to write it, and also because there really isn’t a whole lot to say.

The Citadel needs to win on Saturday. It would be a major disappointment to everyone who supports the military college if Western Carolina managed to break its eight-game losing streak.

The Citadel should be able to run the football on offense, and the defense should be able to consistently get stops. That is about the size of it.

I’m ready to watch the Bulldogs win on Saturday. Very ready.

2021 Spring Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on February 27, 2021. 

The game will be televised by Nexstar Broadcasting and streamed on ESPN+. David Jackson will handle play-by-play, while Jay Sonnhalter supplies the analysis. Kristin Banks will be the sideline reporter.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze

Nexstar affiliates:

  • WMYT (Charlotte)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville)
  • WMUB (Macon)
  • WWCW (Lynchburg/Roanoke)
  • WCBD-d2 (Charleston)

Note: I am tentatively including WCBD as one of the affiliates for the contest, even though it is not part of the affiliate list provided by the SoCon’s weekly release. The station itself issued a release indicating that the game would be aired on one of its digital subchannels (2.2). However, the game is currently not on WCBD’s programming schedule.

If I receive final confirmation one way or the other, I’ll adjust this section accordingly.

Links of interest:

Enthusiasm is up for spring football at The Citadel

– Jaylan Adams is the Bulldogs’ new starting quarterback

– Mercer prepares for home opener

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Mercer’s website

The Citadel’s home attendance policies for spring football

– The Citadel releases its fall 2021 schedule

– Willie Eubanks III is the preseason SoCon Defensive Player of the Year

Raleigh Webb is back for another season

– “Live Stats” online platform

Spring football fever…catch it!

If you haven’t quite got the fever yet, though, I can’t say that I blame you.

To be honest, I’m not overly excited about this bizarre FCS gridiron campaign. There are several reasons for my hesitancy.

The first and biggest reason is simply that we are still battling a pandemic. I won’t say that we’re in the middle of the pandemic; I would like to think we’ve passed the midway point and that there is light at the end of the tunnel. However, this has been a marathon and not a sprint, and the race won’t be over until long after the spring football season has concluded.

I don’t think the current situation is all that dissimilar from where we were last August, when it was decided to cancel the 2020 FCS season (with a few out-of-conference games as exceptions). It is okay to play now, but it wasn’t then? Perhaps so, but the practical difference is marginal.

I also have concerns about the players’ welfare on a variety of fronts, including the fact that some of them might play 20 games (or more) this calendar year. The 2021 fall season is going to be significantly impacted by the 2021 spring campaign, when it really didn’t have to be.

There is also a question about logistics for the schools, especially at the FCS level, where staffing is not voluminous even during the best of times. Resource allocation could be problematic.

Having said all of that, I’m still along for the ride. I have a great deal of respect for the players and coaches who are committed to this spring season, who want to play and coach, and who are representing their respective schools to the best of their abilities.

If they are going to give it their best shot, then the least I can do as a fan is support them. That seems like the right thing to do.

Please understand, though, if from time to time I seem a bit skeptical of the proceedings.

Speaking of skepticism, that was the reaction of more than a few people (including me) when the SoCon released its spring football schedule. Naturally, this being the SoCon, the league actually had to release the schedule twice.

First, the league hastily decided The Citadel should forfeit a contest for daring to play four games in the fall. That ruling ignored historical precedent and was destined to boomerang against the conference in multiple ways if it had actually been implemented. Only eight days after the league’s decision, however, the military college was granted a waiver by the NCAA, and the initial SoCon slate was quickly adjusted.

It just wasn’t adjusted enough.

All nine league schools will play eight times, a true round-robin. Oh, and each team has only one bye week, so the entire conference schedule has to be completed in nine weeks. Seriously. Did anyone in the league office watch the fall season at all?

The season had not even begun before problems began to surface, with Chattanooga postponing (canceling?) its opener against VMI because of COVID issues. The Mocs are hoping to complete enough practices to be ready for their game versus Wofford this Saturday; Chattanooga’s first practice of the spring came on February 6.

Several other FCS conferences are playing four- and six-game league schedules, which is a far better idea than trying to cram eight games into nine weeks.

Here is what I would have suggested. I am not saying it is perfect (far from it), but this would have been, in my opinion, a more realistic scheduling plan:

Each team would have played four games, spread out over seven weeks, with the eighth week reserved for a league title game and the ninth week as backup in case it was needed; if not, the conference champion would have two weeks to prepare for the FCS playoffs.

There would be two divisions.

  • Pete Long Division — The Citadel, Furman, Wofford, Western Carolina, VMI
  • Tom Frooman Division — Samford, Mercer, Chattanooga, ETSU

In the Long Division, the arithmetic would be easy. There would be a simple round-robin between the five teams.

In the Frooman Division, each team would play a round-robin (three games each), then a fourth contest would be a second “rivalry” matchup. For example, Chattanooga would play Mercer, Samford, and two games against ETSU. Mercer would play Chattanooga, ETSU, and two games versus Samford.

That way, every team would play four games. The division winners would meet in the league title game (I’ll let you, the reader, decide what tiebreakers would be used if necessary); the conference title game winner would get the SoCon auto-bid and an all-but-guaranteed matchup against a Big South team.

Teams that didn’t win a division could play a fifth game if they wanted, or even a sixth, matching up with other squads in those eighth and ninth weeks.

Again, I’m not saying this setup is ideal. It isn’t. I just think it makes more sense than what the league is trying to do.

Now, the SoCon might get away with it (and I certainly hope it does), but the odds are not exactly in the conference’s favor. Anyone who believes otherwise just needs to take a gander at how the league’s hoops schedule is faring right now.

I posted links to game notes for The Citadel and Mercer above, along with the SoCon’s weekly release. For anyone interested, here are links to this week’s game notes for the other league schools (except for ETSU’s, as the Bucs are off this Saturday):

One thing someone reading the game notes will notice is that the records from the fall officially carry over to the spring. Therefore, The Citadel and Mercer technically both enter Saturday’s action with 0-4 records; so does Western Carolina. Chattanooga is 0-1 after playing one fall contest.

However, I’m not listing the games that way. The title of this post references Game 1 of the 2021 spring season for the Bulldogs. That is because I do not consider the contests from fall 2020 to be connected to spring 2021 action any more than the 2018 and 2019 seasons are connected to each other. The notion that spring 2021 is a continuation of fall 2020 is specious at best.

There have been personnel changes since the fall season for all teams (including The Citadel and Mercer). There are players who opted out in the fall but are playing this spring; there are players who participated in the fall but are taking a break for the spring. There have been mid-season transfers in and out of programs.

The fall included only non-conference games (even when teams from the same league were playing each other); the spring will mostly feature conference matchups. The fall scheduling was decidedly haphazard, while the spring schedules weren’t formulated until most of the autumn contests had already been played. (Heck, the Patriot League did not release its spring slate until February 5.)

Despite all of that, the FCS playoff selection committee will allegedly consider fall games (and results) when making at-large selections for the FCS playoffs in April. This strikes me as ludicrous. Then again, we’re talking about the perpetually flawed FCS playoffs, so perhaps it is not too surprising.

It doesn’t really matter. I suspect the only team potentially affected would be Jacksonville State, which defeated an FBS team (FIU) in the fall, and which also picked up wins over North Alabama and Mercer. If the Gamecocks don’t win the OVC but otherwise have a solid spring campaign, they would presumably have a strong case for an at-large bid.

Chattanooga would have also had an argument, if it had not lost its lone fall contest, a 13-10 setback at Western Kentucky in which officiating ineptitude cost the Mocs a game-winning kickoff return TD. Ultimately, I think the league title is probably the only avenue for a SoCon team to make the FCS playoffs this spring.

This is normally the point where I start posting charts of statistics for the Bulldogs’ opponent from the previous year, listing several key players on its two-deep, etc. For this particular season, however, I believe doing so would be a largely pointless exercise.

I could tell you that in 2019, Mercer had the 7th-worst turnover margin in FCS (throwing 17 interceptions didn’t help), or that the Bears were the 8th-worst team in the subdivision in defensive third down conversion percentage, or that Mercer was in the bottom 10 of average time of possession.

I could tell you all that and more, but none of it is exceptionally relevant, partly because 2019 might as well have been a century ago as far as college football is concerned, but mostly because Mercer has a new head coach.

His name is Drew Cronic. Mercer hired him after a five-year stretch in which he spent two years as the head coach at Reinhardt (combined record: 22-3), one year as Furman’s offensive coordinator (the Paladins made the FCS playoffs that season), and two years running the show at Lenoir-Rhyne (combined record: 25-3).

Cronic had also spent nine years earlier in his career at Furman as a position coach and recruiting coordinator.

That kind of résumé will get a lot of people’s attention — and it isn’t like schools haven’t had success with former Lenoir-Rhyne head coaches before. The folks at MU decided to move on from Bobby Lamb (speaking of former Furman coaches), and brought in Cronic.

On offense, Cronic employs a variation of the Wing-T. I say “a variation” because it is clearly a different animal from the Wing-T that your standard high school has used on offense for the last few decades. I think Tubby Raymond would have been impressed, though.

Cronic’s assistant coaches include a couple of names familiar to fans of the Bulldogs. Bob Bodine is the co-offensive coordinator for the Bears; he is a former OC at The Citadel (2010-2013).

Mercer’s defensive coordinator is Joel Taylor, who spent five years at the military college before joining Cronic at Lenoir-Rhyne. Taylor will run a 4-2-5 defense, one that includes a “Bandit” position.

Incidentally, the Bears’ offensive depth chart includes spots for five linemen, a quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, running back, and two “Jokers”.

Given that the Mercer two-deep has both Jokers and Bandits, I thought there was a chance for a cheesy pop culture reference, so I spent several minutes trying to shoehorn a Steve Miller song lyric into this space, and then tried out several jokes based on one of the Batman movies. None of the asides were remotely worthy of even this little blog, so I deleted all of them.

You’re welcome.

Mercer played three fall contests in 2020, Cronic’s first games in charge of the program.

October 10: On a rainy day at Jacksonville State, the Bears lost 34-28 despite an ideal start, as Deondre Johnson returned the game’s opening kickoff 100 yards for a TD. (He will be playing for MU this Saturday, both as a kick returner and at the “Joker” position.) The Gamecocks scored 24 points in the second quarter to take a 27-14 lead into the break, but Mercer was down just 6 late in the fourth quarter and in JSU territory when a Bears fumble was returned 64 yards for a touchdown.

October 17: MU traveled to West Point to face Army. On the game’s opening possession, the Bears put together a 15-play, 56-yard drive that resulted in a field goal. After that, though, the home team dominated, as the Black Knights won 49-3. Not counting a one-play drive at the end of the first half, Army had nine possessions and scored touchdowns on seven of them.

October 31: Mercer hosted Abilene Christian and led 17-10 in the fourth quarter before the Wildcats tied the game. ACU then kicked a field goal on the last play of the contest to win, 20-17. Bears safety Lance Wise (who remains on the roster this spring) had 20 tackles. Mercer QB Harrison Frost was 11 for 15 passing for 126 yards and a TD (Frost was the Bears’ backup quarterback last week).

Mercer lost two fumbles against Abilene Christian, which for the Bears was part of an unfortunate trend. In its three fall games, MU fumbled nine times, losing four of them. Mercer also threw four interceptions in those three contests.

Against Wofford in the Bears’ spring opener, there were no interceptions — but MU fumbled three times and lost all of them.

Mercer’s offense scored 14 points against the Terriers on 11 drives. MU went 3-and-out five times.

The Bears averaged 5.2 yards per rush and 3.8 yards per pass attempt (all of these statistics are sack-adjusted). All but one of Mercer’s 25 passes were thrown by freshman Carter Peevy, who completed 11 of 24 attempts for 131 yards; the Bears’ leading receiver (four receptions) was another freshman, Ethan Dirrim.

MU rushed the football on 58.8% of its offensive plays versus Wofford. My general impression is that Mercer would prefer running the football more often than that; in its matchup with Abilene Christian, for example, the Bears rushed on 74.6% of their plays.

Defensively, Mercer gave up 31 points on 10 drives (not counting one-play end-of-half possessions). The Bears forced three Wofford 3-and-outs. The leading tackler for Mercer was linebacker Alvin Ward Jr., a graduate transfer from Georgia Southern.

MU’s defense allowed 9.1 yards per pass attempt against the Terriers, clearly not something the Bears want to see repeated. Four of Wofford’s 12 completions (in 19 attempts) went for 18 yards or longer.

Wofford averaged 4.8 yards per rush against Mercer. Eight of the Terriers’ 42 runs went for 10 yards or more (with a long of 21).

Quick statistical notes on The Citadel’s offense from 2019 (conference games only, and sack-adjusted):

  • The Citadel rushed on 79.6% of its plays from scrimmage in 2019. As a comparison, the Bulldogs ran the ball 83.7% of the time in 2018, after rushing 77.9% of the time in 2017 and on 85.6% of all offensive plays in 2016.
  • The Bulldogs averaged 74.3 plays from scrimmage per game in 2019. In 2018 that number was 69.0 per contest; in 2017, it was 70.1; and in 2016, 72.1.
  • The Citadel averaged 5.39 yards per play in 2019. In 2018, the Bulldogs averaged 5.36 yards per play; in 2017, that number was 5.38 yards per play; and in 2016, the squad averaged 5.58 yards per play.
  • The average yards per pass attempt in 2019 was 7.7, in line with the numbers from 2018 (7.8), 2017 (7.0), and 2016 (7.4).
  • The Citadel averaged 4.80 yards per rush, which is the lowest figure for the Bulldogs in this category since I began regularly tracking these statistics in 2013.

Quick statistical notes on The Citadel’s defense from 2019 (conference games only, and sack-adjusted):

  • The Bulldogs’ defense faced a rushing play 52.8% of the time in 2019. During the 2018 campaign, opponents rushed on 43.5% of their plays from scrimmage. In 2017, that number was 54.7%.
  • The Citadel’s opponents averaged 63.0 plays from scrimmage in 2019. That compares to 62.3 plays per game in 2018; 58.8 plays/game in 2017; and 57.6 plays per contest in 2016.
  • In 2019, the Bulldogs’ defense allowed 5.69 yards per play. During the 2018 season, it allowed 6.18 yards per play; in 2017, 5.69 yards/play; and in 2016, 4.94 yards per play.
  • Opponents averaged 4.91 yards per rush. In 2018, that number was 5.69; it was 4.87 in 2017 and 4.61 back in 2016.
  • The Citadel’s D allowed 6.6 yards per pass attempt, with the figures from past years looking like this: 6.5 in 2018; 7.5 in 2017; and 5.3 in 2016.

The Citadel’s listed depth chart for the game against Mercer, by class:

  • Freshmen: 9
  • Redshirt freshmen: 8
  • Sophomores: 2
  • Redshirt sophomores: 12
  • Juniors: 11
  • Redshirt juniors: 5
  • Seniors: 2
  • Redshirt seniors: 0
  • Graduate students: 2

Mercer’s listed depth chart for the game versus The Citadel, by class:

  • Freshmen: 10
  • Redshirt Freshmen: 7
  • Sophomores: 8
  • Redshirt sophomores: 5
  • Juniors: 4
  • Redshirt juniors: 7
  • Seniors: 0
  • Redshirt seniors: 2
  • Graduate students: 3

Career points scored by Bulldogs listed on the updated spring roster:

McCarthy is on the baseball team and is not expected to compete on the gridiron this spring.

No current Bulldog has scored a defensive touchdown. The only one to have tallied a special teams TD is Webb, on a 77-yard kickoff return against Charleston Southern in 2018.

Trivia time: The Citadel has yet to score a defensive two-point conversion since the rule was implemented at the college level in 1988.

Odds and ends:

From The Citadel’s game notes comes this interesting tidbit:

Defensive back Javonte Middleton will become the first Bulldog to wear #0 this spring. The number was introduced in the fall by the NCAA and will be worn by the Military Captain each year for the Bulldogs.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Macon, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny with a 20% chance of rain, and a high of 72°. As the week has progressed, the projected high temperature has continued to rise.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel (as of February 24) is a 6-point favorite at Mercer. The over/under is 51½.

– Other SoCon lines this week (as of February 24): Wofford is a 2½-point favorite at Chattanooga (over/under of 46); Samford is a 15½-point favorite over Western Carolina (over/under of 58½); and Furman is a 24½-point favorite at VMI (over/under of 62½).

A few more games of note in FCS: James Madison is a 35½-point favorite over Robert Morris; South Dakota State is a 7½-point favorite at North Dakota; Elon is a 17½-point favorite at Gardner-Webb; Howard is a 3½-point favorite at Delaware State; McNeese State is an 11-point favorite over Incarnate Word; and Jackson State is a 10½-point favorite over Mississippi Valley State.

– Mercer’s notable alumni include TV personality Nancy Grace, missionary/spy John Birch, and music promoter Phil Walden.

– The Citadel is 11-5-1 against Mercer in the all-time series.

– Mercer’s roster includes 64 players from Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (8), North Carolina (7), Tennessee (3), South Carolina (2), and one each from Alabama, California, Hawai’i, Ohio, and Texas.

There are two Palmetto State products on MU’s squad. Offensive lineman Ni Mansell is a freshman from Anderson who played at Westside High School; he is on the two-deep as the backup right guard.

Of course, The Citadel is more than familiar with linebacker Jordan Williams, a graduate transfer from none other than the military college itself. Williams (listed as a ‘KAT’ on Mercer’s depth chart) went to Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

Alas, no Bear can claim to be an alumnus of South Carolina’s most celebrated institution for gridiron greatness, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. For long-term success in Macon, the new coaching staff must successfully recruit at least a few of those remarkable individuals who wear the famed maroon and orange. Otherwise, Mercer’s program will remain lost in the desert, forever unquenched.

– There are ten players on Mercer’s roster who have transferred into the program from four-year colleges since Drew Cronic became the head coach. Those schools include The Citadel (as mentioned above), along with Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Lenoir-Rhyne, Liberty, Navy, Virginia Tech, and Wofford. Four of those players (right guard John Harris, tight end Drake Starks, wide receiver Ty James, and running back Nakendrick Clark) are projected as starters on offense, as is right tackle Santo DeFranco, a junior college transfer from Hartnell College in California.

Clark and Starks are two of the three Bears who joined the program at the semester break.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s game notes) is as follows: South Carolina (48 players), Georgia (15), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Texas (3), Pennsylvania (2), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tight end Hayden Williamson played his high school football in Okinawa, Japan.

– The Citadel’s football team has an all-time record of 0-0 for games played on February 27. That is tied for the fewest wins, and fewest losses, for any date in program history.

– This week during the 1990 baseball season at The Citadel:

The Bulldogs entered the week 2-1, having beaten North Carolina State 12-1 in their most recent matchup. On February 21, The Citadel defeated Augusta College 9-4, the first collegiate victory for starting pitcher Steve Basch, a freshman from Lansing, Michigan.

The Citadel then won three straight games against Davidson. A doubleheader sweep was highlighted by Jason Rychlick’s game-winning two-run single in the nightcap. In the final game of the series, the Cadets whipped the Wildcats 15-4, with Anthony Jenkins, Billy Baker, and Dan McDonnell all homering. McDonnell’s round-tripper would prove to be the only one he would hit all season.

Chal Port’s Bulldogs completed a perfect week on the diamond with two triumphs over Gannon. In the first matchup, Chris Coker’s four RBI highlighted a 12-hit attack in a 9-2 victory. The second game was a 10-6 win; Brad Stowell pitched six solid innings to garner the decision. Six different players had multiple-hit games in the contest, which (we must report, to be fair) also featured a triple play turned by the Golden Knights.

The Citadel was 6-0 during the week ending February 27, with a winning streak of seven games. The overall record stood at 8-1.

I don’t really know what to expect on Saturday. The Citadel will have a new starting quarterback and a lot of younger players sprinkled throughout the two-deep (particularly at A-Back and in the defensive line rotation). It goes without saying that the performance of Jaylan Adams at QB will be a major key.

Mercer will have the advantage of having played one game, which in this unicorn of a season could be a big deal, although I’m not entirely sure it is. I’m not entirely sure about anything when it comes to spring football.

The games between the two programs since Mercer joined the SoCon have always been close. The largest margin of victory in the series during that timeframe is 11 points, which came in the last meeting — The Citadel’s 35-24 win in 2019.

I won’t be in Macon, but I’ll be watching on ESPN+ while simultaneously listening to the radio call. The “live stats” online platform will be at the ready.

I would say it is that time of year, except it really isn’t — and yet, here we are anyway. What a world.

Go Dogs!

Football attendance at The Citadel: a review (including SoCon/FCS/COVID-19 observations)

Another (recent!) post about football at The Citadel:

Once upon a time, The Citadel was known as the Light Brigade

A less-than-recent post about football at The Citadel that I’ll highlight anyway, just because:

Homecoming at The Citadel: from 1924 to the present

This post is (mostly) about home attendance at The Citadel, which is a subject I’ve written about many times over the years. I will delve into the SoCon and national FCS attendance numbers, and I’ll also address the enormous elephant in the room: COVID-19’s affect on this season’s attendance.

First, a spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2019

The above link is to a spreadsheet that tracks attendance for The Citadel’s home football games, which has now been updated to include the 2019 season. The spreadsheet lists year-by-year totals and average game attendance, and the win/loss record for the Bulldogs (both overall and at Johnson Hagood Stadium). There is also a category ranking the years by average attendance.

Other columns refer to the program’s winning percentage over a two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year period, with the “current” season being the final year in each category. For example, the three-year winning percentage for 1970 (54.84%) is made up of the 1968, 1969, and 1970 seasons.

I include those categories mainly to see what impact constant winning (or losing) has on long-term attendance trends. While the answer to that question would seem obvious on the surface, it isn’t quite that simple.

In recent years, I have compared average attendance for the first two games of a season to the last two contests of the same campaign. There are definite sample-size issues when making such a comparison — weather, time of opening kickoff, opponent fan base, etc. —  but I’ve decided to keep up with it anyway. (After all, it’s not that hard to copy/paste.)

I’ve added the 2019 numbers, as part of an nine-year stretch:

  • 2011 [4-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 12,756; final two home games, average attendance of 12,387 (including Homecoming)
  • 2012 [7-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,281; final two home games, average attendance of 13,715 (including Homecoming)
  • 2013 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,370; final two home games, average attendance of 12,948 (including Homecoming)
  • 2014 [5-7 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,700; final two home games, average attendance of 9,563 (including Homecoming)
  • 2015 [9-4 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,356; final two home games, average attendance of 12,465 (including Homecoming)
  • 2016 [10-2 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 13,299; final two home games, average attendance of 13,996 (including Homecoming)
  • 2017 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,718; final two home games, average attendance of 9,496 (including Homecoming)
  • 2018 [5-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 9,559; final two home games, average attendance of 9,511 (including Homecoming and a rescheduled game)
  • 2019 [6-6 overall record]: First two home games, average attendance of 8,817; final two home games, average attendance of 9,141 (including Homecoming)

Since 1964, the Bulldogs’ record at Johnson Hagood Stadium is 192-120 (61.5%). The average home attendance over that time period is 13,888. However, there has not been a season in which home attendance averaged more than 13,888 since 2006.

As many of those reading reading this are aware, the current stadium capacity is less than 12,000, due to the demolition of the East stands in the spring of 2017. Because of this, The Citadel cannot expect to see an increase in attendance to the levels of the early part of this century anytime soon (to say nothing of the attendance figures for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s).

Of course, with the specter of COVID-19 looming over the 2020 campaign, the number of available seats at Johnson Hagood Stadium may not be quite as relevant this season.

Last year’s average home attendance of 9,344 was exactly one person per game higher than in 2018. It was the third-lowest average for any season since attendance figures at Johnson Hagood Stadium can be accurately determined. Over the previous 55 years, only one season featured lower home attendance — 2017. Thus, the three lowest average attendance figures since 1964 have occurred over the last three seasons.

A note that is worth mentioning every year: the cutoff for accuracy in attendance numbers means years like 1959 (eight wins), 1960 (Tangerine Bowl victory), and 1961 (SoCon title) cannot be included for comparison in this review, not to mention any of the other years from 1948, when the most recent iteration of Johnson Hagood Stadium opened, through the 1963 season. I am not particularly confident in any season attendance figures prior to 1964. (As for the attendance figures that are listed post-1964, well, I’m rolling with them — but as the saying goes, your mileage may vary.)

The largest home attendance at any pre-1964 contest was almost certainly for the Homecoming game against Clemson in 1948, when an estimated 16,000 fans were present for the dedication of the “new” Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The top average attendance marks at JHS over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods:

  • Two years: 1975-76 (18,250). Rest of the top five: 1991-92, 1979-80, 1990-91, 1989-90
  • Three years: 1990-92 (17,457). Rest of the top five: 1989-91, 1978-80, 1991-93, 1975-77
  • Five years: 1988-92 (17,126). Rest of the top five: 1989-93, 1975-79, 1976-80, 1990-94
  • Ten years: 1975-84 (16,250). Rest of the top five: 1983-92, 1974-83, 1976-85, 1984-93

Average attendance by decade:

  • 1964-69: 11,998
  • 1970-79: 15,053
  • 1980-89: 15,398
  • 1990-99: 14,955
  • 2000-09: 13,850
  • 2010-19: 11,147

As for FCS attendance in 2019:

School G Total Att. Avg. Rank
Jackson State 5 168,808 33,762 1
Montana 7 157,812 22,545 2
James Madison 9 162,974 18,108 3
Alabama State 5 88,997 17,799 4
North Dakota State 9 156,962 17,440 5
Montana State 8 138,246 17,281 6
Southern University 4 67,826 16,957 7
North Carolina A&T 5 84,633 16,927 8
Jacksonville State 7 117,800 16,829 9
Florida A&M 6 99,223 16,537 10
Delaware 7 99,926 14,275 11
Alcorn State 7 92,373 13,196 12
Yale 6 72,796 12,133 13
Youngstown State 7 84,150 12,021 14
Norfolk State 5 56,480 11,296 15
South Dakota State 8 87,764 10,971 16
Sacramento State 7 76,651 10,950 17
McNeese State 6 65,266 10,878 18
Harvard 5 54,060 10,812 19
Grambling State 3 31,188 10,396 20
South Carolina State 6 62,035 10,339 21
New Hampshire 5 50,527 10,105 22
North Alabama 5 47,738 9,548 23
UC Davis 5 47,502 9,500 24
Mercer 6 56,437 9,406 25
The Citadel 6 56,066 9,344 26
Illinois State 6 55,454 9,242 27
Texas Southern 4 36,814 9,204 28
Western Carolina 6 52,814 8,802 29
Tennessee State 6 52,723 8,787 30
Willliam and Mary 6 51,730 8,622 31
East Tennessee State 6 51,152 8,525 32
Northern Iowa 7 59,023 8,432 33
Penn 5 42,134 8,427 34
Holy Cross 5 42,067 8,413 35
Eastern Washington 5 41,833 8,367 36
North Dakota 6 50,040 8,340 37
Stephen F. Austin 4 33,294 8,324 38
Eastern Kentucky 5 41,568 8,314 39
Alabama A&M 4 32,527 8,132 40
Central Arkansas 6 47,652 7,942 41
Abilene Christian 6 47,291 7,882 42
Chattanooga 6 46,603 7,767 43
Richmond 6 45,205 7,534 44
Weber State 8 59,506 7,438 45
Stony Brook 7 51,214 7,316 46
Elon 5 36,209 7,242 47
Murray State 6 43,402 7,234 48
Princeton 5 36,125 7,225 49
Hampton 6 43,309 7,218 50
Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6 43,143 7,191 51
Lamar 6 43,037 7,173 52
Idaho 6 41,312 6,885 53
Nicholls State 6 41,221 6,870 54
Austin Peay 7 47,461 6,780 55
Lehigh 5 33,540 6,708 56
Tennessee Tech 6 40,203 6,701 57
Bethune-Cookman 3 19,981 6,660 58
Northwestern State 5 33,122 6,624 59
Northern Arizona 6 39,441 6,574 60
Cal Poly 5 32,815 6,563 61
Southeastern Louisiana 6 39,184 6,531 62
Towson 6 38,872 6,479 63
Southern Illinois 5 32,279 6,456 64
Missouri State 5 32,248 6,450 65
Maine 5 31,891 6,378 66
Prairie View A&M 5 31,820 6,364 67
North Carolina Central 5 31,674 6,335 68
Idaho State 5 30,645 6,129 69
Villanova 6 36,020 6,003 70
Furman 6 35,883 5,981 71
Kennesaw State 6 35,686 5,948 72
Rhode Island 5 29,432 5,886 73
Morehead State 6 33,969 5,662 74
Dartmouth 4 22,384 5,596 75
Campbell 6 32,403 5,401 76
Columbia 5 26,881 5,376 77
South Dakota 6 30,225 5,038 78
Indiana State 7 35,222 5,032 79
Eastern Illinois 5 24,413 4,883 80
Sam Houston State 6 29,267 4,878 81
Morgan State 5 24,074 4,815 82
Southern Utah 5 23,985 4,797 83
Lafayette 5 23,321 4,664 84
Northern Colorado 5 22,871 4,574 85
Mississippi Valley State 6 26,493 4,416 86
Samford 5 21,983 4,397 87
Southeast Missouri State 7 30,264 4,323 88
Wofford 6 25,867 4,311 89
Cornell 5 21,475 4,295 90
VMI 6 24,127 4,021 91
Portland State 6 23,995 3,999 92
Davidson 7 27,025 3,861 93
Albany (NY) 7 26,808 3,830 94
Howard 4 15,317 3,829 95
Central Connecticut State 5 18,974 3,795 96
Brown 5 18,946 3,789 97
Sacred Heart 5 18,194 3,639 98
Charleston Southern 5 17,762 3,552 99
Colgate 5 17,755 3,551 100
Fordham 5 17,042 3,408 101
Incarnate Word 6 19,643 3,274 102
Butler 6 19,593 3,266 103
Gardner-Webb 5 16,226 3,245 104
UT Martin 5 15,569 3,114 105
Monmouth 7 19,463 2,780 106
Bucknell 5 13,751 2,750 107
Dayton 5 13,702 2,740 108
Western Illinois 6 15,922 2,654 109
LIU 3 7,515 2,505 110
Houston Baptist 6 13,932 2,322 111
Drake 5 11,160 2,232 112
Bryant 6 12,916 2,153 113
San Diego 6 12,574 2,096 114
Wagner 6 12,447 2,075 115
Valparaiso 6 12,340 2,057 116
Georgetown 5 9,803 1,961 117
Marist 6 11,317 1,886 118
Duquesne 5 9,286 1,857 119
Jacksonville 6 10,842 1,807 120
Robert Morris 6 10,664 1,777 121
Presbyterian 7 11,810 1,687 122
Stetson 7 11,093 1,585 123
Delaware State 7 10,596 1,514 124
Saint Francis (PA) 5 7,208 1,442 125

Notes on the above table:

– I included North Alabama, technically a “transitioning” school last year, but one that played a full Division I schedule.

– Average home game attendance for FCS schools declined last season, from 7,325 in 2018 to 7,296 in 2019.

– The Citadel ranked 26th out of 124 FCS schools, and second in the Southern Conference (behind Mercer). Despite the lack of permanent seating on the east side of the stadium, the program finished in the top 30 of FCS in attendance for the thirteenth time in the last fourteen years.

– Jackson State led FCS in attendance, as it did in 2018. Attendance for the Tigers’ five home games at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium ranged from 26,341 (a game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff) to 40,085 (versus Southern).

JSU’s home attendance was higher than that of 67 FBS teams, including six P5 schools. Five FBS conferences (AAC, C-USA, MWC, Sun Belt, MAC) had lower average per-school attendance figures.

– Montana and James Madison joined Jackson State in averaging more than 18,000 fans per home game. Four FCS schools accomplished that feat in 2018; seven did so in 2017.

– Furman’s average home attendance over the last four years: 5,771 (2016); 7,775 (2017); 6,139 (2018); 5,981 (2019). That is not a promising trend, though the Paladins did outdraw Wofford for the second consecutive season.

– South Carolina State’s average home attendance over the last four years: 10,148 (2016); 11,883 (2017), 9,174 (2018); 10,339 (2019). Buddy Pough is doing his best to keep things on an even keel in Orangeburg.

– Charleston Southern’s home attendance improved year-over-year from 1,764 (2018) to 3,552 (2019). The Buccaneers were helped on the attendance front by hosting North Carolina A&T and its estimable fan base (5,112 for that game), but CSU had significantly better per-game numbers last season even when taking the Aggies’ supporters into account.

– Morehouse College topped Division II in home attendance, averaging 10,924 fans per game. The top four Division II schools in home attendance were Morehouse, Grand Valley State, Tarleton State (which is now transitioning to FCS), and Tuskegee. All four of them outdrew Northern Illinois, an FBS school; the Huskies only averaged 8,518 per home contest.

Those Tuesday night MAC games are not designed with home attendance in mind. For example, NIU managed to attract 3,568 fans on a rainy Tuesday night versus Western Michigan.

– Other D-2 home attendance averages of interest: Benedict (5,024); Newberry (2,933); North Greenville (3,228); Lenoir-Rhyne (4,769); Chowan (2,320); Catawba (2,140); Carson-Newman (3,441); Valdosta State (4,992); Mars Hill (3,152); Shorter (1,132).

The SoCon’s average attendance fell below 7,000 per game, the first time that had happened this century, and almost certainly the first time the conference had fallen below that number in several decades.

Among FCS leagues, only the MVFC had a larger dropoff in attendance from 2018 to 2019.

Average home attendance for SoCon teams (all games):

  • 2014: 8,204
  • 2015: 8,210
  • 2016: 8,386
  • 2017: 7,827
  • 2018: 7,611
  • 2019: 6,998

2019 home attendance by school, SoCon:

Team Games Total att. Average Nat’l rank
Mercer 6 56,437 9,406 25
The Citadel 6 56,066 9,344 26
WCU 6 52,814 8,802 29
ETSU 6 51,152 8,525 32
Chattanooga 6 46,603 7,767 43
Furman 6 35,883 5,981 71
Samford 5 21,983 4,397 87
Wofford 6 25,867 4,311 89
VMI 6 24,127 4,021 91

I have to note here that not everyone trusts the home attendance numbers released by Mercer. Of course, you could say that for a lot of schools (possibly most of them), but the Bears’ figures in particular have been questioned in recent years by opposing fans and neutral observers alike.

Chattanooga was the median for the conference in terms of home attendance, finishing 5th in the SoCon with 7,767 fans per game. There was a significant difference between 5th-place UTC and 6th-place Furman (5,981), and almost as big a differential between Furman and 7th-place Samford (4,391).

In 2018, the SoCon finished 6th out of 13 FCS conferences in home attendance; last year, the league finished 8th out of 13.

In terms of attendance by league games only — in other words, not counting any non-conference home games (regular or post-season) played by SoCon teams — the average attendance in 2019 was 6,889, a decline of 808 fans per contest from 2018 (there had been a smaller decline in 2017 as well).

Four of thirty-six conference games were attended by more than 10,000 people (there were eight such contests the year before). The Citadel hosted two of those four games (versus VMI and Mercer); the other two matchups were Wofford at Mercer, and Mercer at Western Carolina.

Average home attendance, league games only:

  • The Citadel: 9,608
  • Western  Carolina: 8,433 (a decline of over 1,700 fans per home league contest)
  • Mercer: 8,421 (a decline of almost 1,300 fans per home league contest, with just 5,714 on hand for a game against VMI)
  • East Tennessee State: 8,296
  • Chattanooga: 7,388 (a decline of almost 1,300 fans per home league contest, though all four home games had attendance of greater than 7,000)
  • Furman: 6,632 (an increase of almost 500 fans per home league contest)
  • Wofford: 5,024 (a decline of over 1,700 per home league contest, with a low of 3,463 versus Samford)
  • VMI: 4,186
  • Samford: 4,012 (a decline of over 1,400 fans per home league contest)

Some notes related to this category:

– Mercer had two non-conference home games last season, playing Austin Peay and Campbell at Five Star Stadium. The listed attendance for both games exceeded 11,000.

– Conversely, Furman’s home attendance was hurt by its season finale versus Point (just 3,432 in the stands for that one). The Paladins didn’t really get much out of playing Charleston Southern in its opener, either (6,146, which was a lower total than three of its four league home games).

– Samford only drew 1,521 fans for its game against East Tennessee State. The conditions were not ideal (rain), but that still seems like a serious outlier.

– In 2019 conference play, more people attended games played by Mercer than any other school. In eight games (four home, four away), the Bears competed before a total of 70,456 fans, an average of 8,818 per contest. The Citadel was the second-most watched team, followed by Western Carolina.

Least-watched team: Samford, with Wofford second from the bottom.

All of that is in the past. What is in the future?

Unfortunately, right now the same thing that is in the present: a world in which daily life is impacted by COVID-19.

No one knows how long that will continue. Another thing that is still an unknown, as I write this in mid-June, is how the omnipresence of the virus will affect the 2020 football season.

While most states seem to be gradually moving toward a “new normal”, there are major concerns about the ability for large groups of people to safely gather this fall. We’ve already seen some cautionary tales, including the University of Houston’s announcement that six of its returning football players tested positive for COVID-19 (and were all symptomatic).

The city of Houston has become a virus “hotspot”, and Texas is one of a number of states experiencing rising numbers of COVID-19 cases as late spring turns to early summer. Another one of those states: South Carolina.

That has led to discussions about limiting the number of fans in attendance. In an article about this issue, The Citadel’s director of athletics, Mike Capaccio, explained:

One model among several that The Citadel has been studying is to have about 3,000 to 4,000 spectators in the stands for home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium, which seats about 11,500 in its current configuration. The Citadel averaged 9,344 fans for six home games last year.

But that’s just one possibility, Capaccio said during the meeting.

“We’ve been looking at a lot of different models, obviously,” he said. “But there is one that we are looking at where we would have three to four thousand people at the game, possibly. We are hoping for a lot more, to be back to normal by that point.

“But say that happens. You have a couple of thousand cadets to start with, and then family members and so forth. And then, how do you handle club seats and things like that? There are really some unknowns that we have, and that’s all across the board in college athletics.”

The next couple of months are going to be very difficult, as administrators determine just what they are going to be able to do, and how they are going to do it. There is still uncertainty about whether or not college football’s collective schedule will begin — or end — as planned.

I would very much like to see a normal college football season, one that includes attending home and away games. At this point, however, I tend to think that won’t happen.

I really hope I’m wrong about that.

2019 Football, Game 12: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on November 23, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Matt Dean will handle play-by-play, while Dominique Allen 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 “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on Wofford’s website

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (11/18)

– The Dogs:  Episode 12

I’m going to begin this preview by discussing the fact that the corps of cadets will not be in attendance at Saturday’s game. Obviously, that is ridiculous. Other than the 2004 game against Western Carolina, I am unaware of any other regular-season game in the last 50 years at Johnson Hagood Stadium that did not feature the corps.

There are a few people out there (thankfully, just a few) who don’t think this is a big deal. It is absolutely a big deal. The corps of cadets attending home games is a part of the school’s fabric. It is an essential element of the gameday experience, and a very popular one. It is distinctly traditional in all the best ways.

I got angrier and angrier as I read Jeff Hartsell’s article on this topic.

…when the 2019 schedule was released last January, a home game with Wofford was slated for Nov. 23, the day after The Citadel’s furlough was to begin. The Citadel’s “money game” was early in the season — a Sept. 14 game at Georgia Tech that the Bulldogs won by 27-24.

Athletic director Mike Capaccio said he tried to work with the Southern Conference to get the game moved, but it was too late. Geoff Cabe, the SoCon senior associate commissioner, said the league was unaware at that time of any special requests The Citadel might have for scheduling…

…”When we discussed it with the conference office, they said they were not aware of any rule we had,” said Capaccio, who took over for Jim Senter as The Citadel’s AD in August 2018, about six months after Senter left for Texas-El Paso. “They were not aware that if we didn’t have the corps there, we shouldn’t be having a game.

“But the bottom line is, we signed off on it and approved it.”

Requiring the corps to remain on campus until after the game would have been problematic, given travel plans and other arrangements made in advance.

“There was some discussion about it, but it was kind of a non-starter,” Capaccio said. “Obviously, that’s up to other folks on campus. It’s just a bad situation, and the bottom line is that we approved it.”

Sigh…where to start…

– Capaccio has been the AD at The Citadel since August 15, 2018, and was the interim AD as of no later than July 20 of that year. Of course, he had previously been working for The Citadel Development Foundation, as the school went on an eight-month odyssey to find a new director of athletics (paying a search firm $70,000 in the process) just to pick someone who was already on campus.

I don’t know when the SoCon sent the 2019 football schedule to The Citadel for approval. I would be very surprised if it was sent prior to July of 2018. Maybe it was; that isn’t entirely clear. If so, responsibility for its approval would have fallen on either Jim Senter or former interim AD Rob Acunto.

However, it seems unlikely the schedule would have been approved by the college that far in advance, since it wasn’t officially released until January 2019.

Basically, the schedule got rubber-stamped at The Citadel (readers of this post can make up their own minds as to by whom) and sent back to the SoCon office, seemingly without even a cursory check to determine if there was a potential problem. Then the slate was released by The Citadel on January 31, 2019 (though Wofford had already announced its schedule three days earlier).

– I don’t know when someone in the department of athletics noticed there was a conflict between the Wofford game and Thanksgiving furlough. I’m going to assume it was fairly soon after the release, because a number of other observers spotted it immediately.

There was plenty of time to adjust the academic calendar to account for the late-season home game. Instead, no change was made — presumably, based on Capaccio’s comments in the article, a decision (or non-decision) made by the folks in Bond Hall.

Curiously, VMI was faced with a similar situation this season, and evidently changed its calendar to ensure that the Keydets would be in attendance for its home game this Saturday, a rare example of VMI being more proactive and flexible than The Citadel when it comes to something involving varsity athletics.

– Apparently, Capaccio tried to get the game moved to Thursday, November 21. However, Wofford refused to go along with that plan.

Wofford head coach Josh Conklin:

“…one of the things that came up early on in the scheduling was they talked about moving this game to a Thursday. It wasn’t out of disrespect that we didn’t want to move it. For us, it comes down to the preparation. They are such a difficult team to prepare for offensively and defensively, and…it could be such an important game at the end of the year. Those 2 1/2 days of prep [that Wofford would not have]…are really important to us as a program.”

Conklin didn’t mention that in that scenario, The Citadel also would have had 2 1/2 fewer days of preparation. He was just looking for an easy way to explain why the Terriers weren’t going to go along with the switch.

I don’t think anyone should be surprised that Wofford refused to move the game. It was a great break for the Terriers, after all, as what could potentially have been a key road game would be played with reduced attendance on the home side — not just the absence of the cadets, but also the people who go to the games in part because the corps is there.

Wofford is used to playing in front of small home crowds in Spartanburg, so this turn of events worked out perfectly for the Terriers.

While I honestly can’t be too critical of Wofford for its lack of accommodation, clearly The Citadel won’t owe that school anything the next time it asks the military college for a favor. That next time could come sooner rather than later.

– I am more than a little surprised that the conference office did not know about The Citadel’s academic calendar. I suspect the league schedule is built around various “money games” each school plays, understandably so.

That said, The Citadel has not always had a scheduled “money game” for the last week of the season since the formulation of the current extended furlough period. Seasons in which the Bulldogs could have been assigned a home contest for the last game of the regular season (following the 2004 BOV motion referenced in Jeff Hartsell’s story) include 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2014.

The Citadel played a road conference game on that Saturday in all of those years. Was this simply an amazingly fortuitous series of coincidences? I have my doubts.

It appears that someone in the league office was at least partly aware of the college’s scheduling concerns. Perhaps there was a loss of organizational knowledge sometime in the last five years.

The bottom line is that this whole episode is embarrassing and totally unacceptable, and it was also completely avoidable — a self-inflicted wound.

Mike Capaccio has now been in charge of the department of athletics for more than 15 months. So far, this debacle appears to be the most noteworthy thing to occur on his watch (whether or not he is actually at fault for it). Regarding his performance in the position to date, Capaccio has work to do when it comes to alleviating the concerns of a significant number of supporters of varsity athletics.

I believe responsibility for this affair, though, also must be shouldered by the school administration, including Gen. Walters. Someone in the administration probably needs to personally apologize to the coaches and players on the football team, especially the seniors. They were let down by the school.

Ultimately, the absence of the corps of cadets from Saturday’s game is simply due to ineptitude; nothing more, nothing less.

This little article has been making the rounds on the internet. I want to briefly comment on it, mainly because I think an opposing point of view is necessary, one which also happens to be the correct point of view.

…each year a football official visits the Laurens County Touchdown and creates the unmistakable impression that the refs are good guys who actually know the rules and what they are doing out there…

…Jack Childress, supervisor of officials in the Southern and South Atlantic conferences, pulled off the same trick Thursday. It turns out Childress, who has worn the white referee’s cap in just about every Southern palace where football games are held, knows more about the rules than everyone, with the possible exception of Bob Strock and King Dixon, at The Ridge.

He likely dissuaded most everyone else who thought he (or she) knew the rules, which, at something called a touchdown club, is just about everyone.

The general impression I get from this story is that Jack Childress is great, his officials are greater, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an unsophisticated rube who should shut up already.

Well, guess what. That isn’t true.

SoCon officials simply aren’t very good. Childress has been the football officiating supervisor for the SoCon since 2011, and things haven’t improved — if anything, they have worsened.

I wish that instead of making appearances on the rubber chicken circuit, Childress would spend more time showing his officials the proper way to spot a football. I’m tired of the Bulldogs having to pick up 11 or 12 yards for a first down instead of 10.

Maybe he could also do something about the inconsistencies surrounding the league’s replay review setup….or perhaps he could tell his officials not to become part of the action, particularly in close games.

The Citadel didn’t lose last week solely because of the officiating, but it was a factor. That is a scenario which has been repeated far too often over the years.

I would encourage the new conference commissioner, Jim Schaus, to fix the problem. Actually acknowledging there is a problem would be a good first step.

The coaches and players (and yes, the fans) of the conference deserve better. A lot better.

Not that I want to spend much time (any time, really) on last week’s game, but just a couple of points.

Brent Thompson definitely should have gone for 2 points after the Bulldogs’ last TD. Afterwards, the coach had this to say:

That did cross my mind there. We double-checked with analytics, and it didn’t say it was necessary. But you have the opportunity to put the ball at the 1½ [because of a dead-ball penalty on the Mocs], and that’s something that’s crossed my mind more than once since the game ended.

In this case, I think the coach needs a one-week refund from the data crunchers. I say that as someone who is a big fan of how Thompson has incorporated analytics into his decision-making process.

However, the touchdown was scored almost midway through the fourth quarter. This isn’t a case of going for it too early (as Chattanooga did in the first half). There weren’t going to be that many more possessions.

It was only the second major decision Thompson has made all season in which I strongly disagreed. (The other was his opting to go for 2 in the game against Charleston Southern, which was more complicated but still, in my opinion, a mistake.)

I also felt that the sequence at the end of the first half was not ideal, though it was a bit tricky. Nevertheless, The Citadel ended the half still holding a timeout. I think the Bulldogs may have left one or two plays on the table.

Wofford has played 10 games this season, and is 7-3 (6-1 in the SoCon). The Terriers have lost to South Carolina State, Samford, and Clemson, but have won 7 straight contests versus FCS opposition.

Every other team in the league scheduled 12 regular season games (including Mercer, which actually added a 12th game against Presbyterian after the season had already started). Wofford has not added a 12th game (when given the opportunity to do so because of the calendar) since the 2002 season, declining four subsequent chances to add another game to its slate.

A quick statistical ranking comparison between the Terriers and Bulldogs (these are FCS national rankings, and they include all games, including those versus FBS teams):

  • Yards per play, offense: Wofford (7th), The Citadel (85th)
  • Yards per play allowed, defense: Wofford (70th), The Citadel (98th)
  • Yards per rush, offense: Wofford (3rd), The Citadel (43rd)
  • Yards per rush allowed, defense: Wofford (77th), The Citadel (84th)
  • Offensive third down conversion rate: Wofford (7th), The Citadel (15th)
  • Defensive third down conversion rate: Wofford (40th), The Citadel (82nd)
  • Net Punting: Wofford (26th), The Citadel (5th)
  • Punt return average: Wofford (2nd), The Citadel (74th)
  • Kickoff return average: Wofford (97th), The Citadel (62nd)
  • Fewest penalties per game: Wofford (46th), The Citadel (T-26th)
  • Time of possession: Wofford (2nd), The Citadel (1st)
  • Turnover margin: Wofford (T-56th), The Citadel (T-76th)
  • Offensive team passing efficiency: Wofford (49th), The Citadel (3rd)
  • Defensive team passing efficiency: Wofford (47th), The Citadel (68th)
  • Scoring offense: Wofford (25th), The Citadel (43rd)
  • Scoring defense: Wofford (T-29th), The Citadel (62nd)
  • Red Zone TD rate, offense: Wofford (15th), The Citadel (22nd)
  • Red Zone TD rate, defense: Wofford (104th), The Citadel (36th)

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny, with a high of 73 degrees. The forecast called for rain earlier in the week, but now it is anticipated that the skies will be relatively clear.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Thursday afternoon), Wofford is a 6 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 55 1/2.

Through eleven games this season, The Citadel is 5-6 ATS. The over has hit just four times, but two of those occasions have come in the last two contests.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 44-point favorite over, uh, Point; Chattanooga is a 9-point favorite at VMI; Western Carolina is a 57-point underdog at Alabama; Samford is a 48 1/2 point underdog at Auburn; Mercer is a 39-point underdog at North Carolina; and East Tennessee State is a 20 1/2 point underdog at Vanderbilt.

– Also of note: Towson is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Elon, and Charleston Southern is a 2 1/2 point favorite over Campbell.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 31, with Kennesaw State favored over Gardner-Webb.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 43rd in FCS. The Terriers are 24th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 36% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Wofford 31, The Citadel 26.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, James Madison, Montana, Sacramento State, and Weber State.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 8th, Towson 12th, Villanova 13th, Maine 18th, Monmouth 21st, Furman 26th, Kennesaw State 31st, Elon 32nd, UT Martin 36th, Florida A&M 38th, Chattanooga 42nd, North Carolin A&T 46th, Holy Cross 49th, South Carolina State 54th, Jacksonville State 57th, Samford 65th, Rhode Island 70th, Colgate 73rd, Duquesne 78th, Campbell 80th, VMI 81st, East Tennessee State 82nd, Charleston Southern 84th, Mercer 85th, Georgetown 93rd, Davidson 100th, Western Carolina 102nd, Gardner-Webb 111th, Merrimack 117th, Presbyterian 125th, and Butler 126th (last).

– Wofford’s notable alumni include sportscaster Wendi Nix, longtime political operative Donald Fowler, and television anchor/reporter Craig Melvin.

– Future FBS opponents for the Terriers include South Carolina (in 2020 and 2022), North Carolina (2021), Virginia Tech (2022), and Clemson (in 2023 and 2027). Wofford also has a home-and-home series scheduled with Kennesaw State in 2021 and 2022.

– Wofford’s roster includes 41 players from the state of South Carolina. Other states represented: Georgia (16 players), North Carolina (10), Florida (7), Ohio (7), Tennessee (6), Kentucky (5), Alabama (4), and one each from Maryland, New Jersey, Texas, and Virginia.

Offensive lineman Ronnie Brooks is from Washington, DC.

None of the Terriers are from internationally renowned pigskin power Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This ludicrous failure to recruit any of the fantastic football players who sport the famed maroon and orange will inevitably lead to the Terriers’ demise as a factor on the gridiron.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is unchanged from last week.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 5-7 for games played on November 23 (note: the 1935 game against Presbyterian listed in the school’s record book as having been played on November 23 was actually played on November 28).

Among the highlights from past contests on November 23:

  • 1923: On a muddy field at the Allendale County Fair, The Citadel defeated Southern College, 18-3. John “Judge” O’Shaughnessy and Norman Holliday were the stars for the Bulldogs. Incidentally, Southern College is now known as Florida Southern; it is a D-2 school that no longer fields a football team.
  • 1940: Before a crowd of 2,500 fans at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel edged Sewanee, 13-7. Marty Gold scored both touchdowns for the Light Brigade, as the football team was occasionally called during this period of time. The defense held Sewanee to only three first downs.
  • 1946: At Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, The Citadel beat Davidson 21-13 before 4,000 spectators. Luke Dunfee, one of the greatest kick returners in school history, returned a kickoff 92 yards for a TD for the Bulldogs, and also threw a TD pass to Gene Foxworth (the only completion for the Bulldogs on the day). Dick Sparks ran for a 16-yard score, and Bill Henderson converted all three PATs.
  • 1974: In front of 13,210 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel whipped Davidson, 56-21. Andrew Johnson rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns (one receiving), finishing the season with 1,373 rushing yards (at the time the SoCon single-season record). Gene Dotson rushed for 148 yards and two TDs, and threw another to Mike Riley (with Dotson breaking his thumb on the TD pass). Backup QB Rod Lanning threw a TD pass to Johnson and rushed for two scores himself, with Mike Bazemore adding a 28-yard touchdown run. Billy Long and Mike Dean had interceptions for the Bulldogs.
  • 1991: In Charleston, a Homecoming crowd of 21,623 watched The Citadel beat Furman, 10-6, in one of the most intense contests ever played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Jack Douglas scored the game’s only touchdown with 6:27 remaining in the fourth quarter, with the winning drive set up by a Lance Cook fumble recovery, after David Russinko had knocked the ball out of the hands of Furman’s quarterback. Rob Avriett kicked a 33-yard field goal and added the PAT after Douglas’ score. Shannon Walker intercepted a pass to thwart a last-gasp drive by the Paladins.

I hope that our players are ready to play this game. I think they will be, though there are a lot of aspects to Saturday that make things a bit cloudy on the prognostication front (and I’m not talking about the weather).

There is a lot of disappointment surrounding this contest – the fallout from the game against Chattanooga, and the failure of the administration which has led to the absence of the corps of cadets. The team has to put all of that behind it (even if some of its fans cannot), and perform at a high level against a good opponent.

Opportunity is still there for the Bulldogs – a 7-win season, a winning league campaign, and even a small chance at the FCS playoffs. If The Citadel were to win on Saturday, it would have the best résumé for an at-large team among all SoCon teams, including Furman.

I’ll be there on Saturday, along with a bunch of my much rowdier friends. The atmosphere won’t be quite the same as it normally would be at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but perhaps it may be memorable in its own way.

Go Dogs!

2019 Football, Game 11: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel at Chattanooga, to be played at Finley Stadium/Davenport Field, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 16, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Chris Goforth will handle play-by-play, while Scott McMahen 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 “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Chris Beverly made a big play to save the Bulldogs against ETSU

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

Ra’Shaud Graham is The Citadel’s team chaplain, by way of Lake City

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

General information about the game on Chattanooga’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (11/13)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (11/11)

The Dogs:  Episode 11

Media luncheon this week at Chattanooga

Rusty Wright’s first season at UTC has been fun to watch

An explanation of what is to follow from your friendly blogger…

This is a shorter-than-usual preview. My apologies for that, but I just got back from overseas, and I also had to get a new computer (as my old one decided to blow up two days before I left the country, which was not exactly great timing).

This is actually the first thing I am writing on my new laptop. I suspect there are a few typos below, both because I am still getting used to the keyboard and also because I am, frankly, completely jet-lagged. I’m not complaining, exactly; it was worth it.

Anyway, I did the best I could this week.

Traditional nomenclature clarification when writing about the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (some of this is a copy/paste job from previous previews, but it still applies): 

The history of Chattanooga’s mascot and nickname is a confusing one. I’ve written more than once about the school’s identity and branding issues over the years.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity sports website devoted to the one big question that has seemingly dominated discussion at the school for decades: What is a Moc?

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

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

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

The “Power C” and “Cowcatcher logo” are also branding symbols of note at Chattanooga. About a decade ago, the subject managed to even come to the attention of The New York Times.

The official name of the school, meanwhile, is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Per the game notes:

On first reference, it is acceptable to refer to us as the “University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.” After that, we prefer to be called “Chattanooga” or “UTC.” Our nickname is “Mocs,” not Moccasins. Chattanooga is pronounced chat-uh-NEW-guh, commonly mistaken as CHATT-nooga.

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

One comment on the victory over East Tennessee State two weeks ago:

The inability to properly review Nkem Njoku’s apparent TD catch (either because of a lack of a decent camera angle, or just an outright refusal by the replay booth to review the play) calls into question whether or not the SoCon should even employ replay review.

The lack of consistency among replay review setups in the conference is jarring. That play should have been easily reviewed. The fact that it evidently was not speaks volumes about ETSU’s onsite replay review capability, and it further erodes confidence in the SoCon’s officiating, both at the field and administrative levels.

Some things, unfortunately, never seem to change.

The Citadel and Chattanooga are very closely matched this season from a statistical perspective in league-only games. For example, in SoCon play The Citadel is scoring 34.0 points per game while allowing 28.8 points per contest, while the Mocs are averaging 33.2 points per game while giving up 27.2 points.

UTC has an offensive third-down conversion rate in league play of 45.8%, while The Citadel is at 45.5% in that category. Both are converting 62.5% of the time on fourth down (though the Bulldogs have attempted twice as many fourth-down tries in conference action).

In terms of turnover margin in SoCon games, Chattanooga is +4 while The Citadel is +3.

A few differences: Chattanooga is the least-penalized team in SoCon games, giving up only 38.8 yards per game. (The Citadel is 7th out of 9 teams in penalty yardage.)

The Citadel has the edge in Red Zone TD rate, both offensively and defensively. The Bulldogs put the ball in the end zone 75.9% of the time in SoCon action when they enter the Red Zone, while the Mocs’ offense does so on 66.7% of its trips inside the 20-yard line.

The biggest discrepancy in on defense. While The Citadel is allowing a defensive red zone TD rate of 56.5%, Chattanooga has given up TDs on 16 of its opponents’ 20 trips into scoring territory (80%).

Some other stuff:

– This is Chattanooga’s 112th season of playing football. This is also The Citadel’s 112th year of fielding a football team.

– Chattanooga’s new defensive coordinator this season is longtime coach Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward, father of former Bulldogs running back Lorenzo Ward (who set the record for most rushing TDs in a Homecoming game last season for The Citadel when he scored four times in the Bulldogs’ big comeback victory over Samford).

– On Saturday, the Mocs and Bulldogs will meet for the 53rd time. This is actually Chattanooga’s longest football series in terms of games played. By comparison, The Citadel has played five different opponents 53 or more times (Davidson, Furman, Presbyterian, VMI, and Wofford). The Bulldogs also have series of 40+ games against Newberry, South Carolina, Appalachian State, and Western Carolina.

I tend to doubt that most fans of either UTC or The Citadel consider this matchup a true rivalry, though. The two schools are not particularly close in terms of geography, nor are they similar in enrollment size or mission. There also haven’t been too many games of consequence for both schools over the years (this season’s matchup being an exception).,

However, UTC’s game notes suggests the “rivalry” is a “hot one”, and “one of the more heated rivalries in the league over the last few meetings.” Of course, Chattanooga’s game notes used the exact same verbiage last year when the Mocs played the Bulldogs…and in 2017…and in 2016, too.

– Saturday will be Chattanooga’s “Military Appreciation Day” game. It was also Military Appreciation Day when The Citadel made the trip to Finley Stadium in 2017 and 2015.

– From Jeff Hartsell’s November 11 column in The Post and Courier, word on a key injury for the Mocs:

Star running back Ailym Ford, a freshman from West Florence who is second in the  SoCon with 1,081 rushing yards, went out with a knee injury early in the game and seems unlikely to play this week.

In his place, graduate student transfer Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks ran for 139 yards and two TDs on 27 carries, and QB Nick Tiano also ran for 100 yards, rushing for one TD and throwing for two.

Among league teams, only VMI running back Alex Ramsey has more rushing yards than Ford, who (as noted in the article) went to West Florence High School.

However, Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks is a formidable back in his own right. The 5’8″, 205 lb. graduate transfer rushed for 1,401 yards and 16 TDs as a sophomore at Albany before missing most of his junior season due injury. Last year, he rushed for 767 yards for the Great Danes.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 57 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 33 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Friday afternoon), The Citadel-Chattanooga is a pick’em, with an over/under of 55.

Through nine games this season, The Citadel is 5-5 ATS. The over has hit just three times in ten games — but one of those was in the last game, versus ETSU.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Samford is a 9-point favorite at Western Carolina; VMI is a 34 1/2 point underdog at Army; East Tennessee State is a 4 1/2 point favorite over Mercer; and Furman is a 1-point favorite at Wofford.

– Also of note: Towson is a 4 1/2 point favorite at William & Mary, and Charleston Southern is a 14-point favorite at Presbyterian. Elon is off this week.

Georgia Tech is a 6 1/2 point home underdog to Virginia Tech.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 33 1/2, with Villanova favored over LIU.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 41st in FCS. The Mocs are 51st.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 52% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 28, Chattanooga 27.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, James Madison, Dartmouth, Weber State, and Montana.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: South Dakota State is 8th, UC Davis 11th, Villanova 15th, Towson 16th, Furman 19th, Monmouth 25th, Central Connecticut State 29th, Wofford 31st, Kennesaw State 34th, Elon 36th, Youngstown State 42nd, North Carolina A&T 52nd, Jacksonville State 55th, South Carolina State 59th, Samford 67th, Campbell 73rd, Mercer 75th, VMI 79th, Charleston Southern 91st, East Tennessee State 92nd, Western Carolina 99th, Davidson 100th, Eastern Illinois 102nd, Gardner-Webb 109th, Presbyterian 124th, and Butler 126th (last).

– Chattanooga’s notable alumni include actor Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins, retired general Burwell Bell, and chemist Irvine Grote.

– Future FBS opponents for the Mocs include Western Kentucky (in 2020), Kentucky (2021), and Illinois (2022). Chattanooga also has a two-game set with North Alabama in the future, and will finish home-and-home series against James Madison and Eastern Illinois.

– Chattanooga’s roster includes 40 players from the state of Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (19 players), Alabama (13), Florida (8), Ohio (3), South Carolina (3), and one each from Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey, and Mississippi.

Sophomore wideout Jahmar Quandt is from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Palmetto State products (and their respective high schools) on the Mocs’ squad are junior wide receiver Kanore McKinnon (Dillon, followed by two years at Georgia Military College), junior quarterback Drayton Arnold (Myrtle Beach, a transfer from Old Dominion), and freshman running back Ailym Ford (as mentioned earlier, from West Florence).

While there are a few South Carolina natives on Chattanooga’s squad, none are from celebrated gridiron factory Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. Failing to recruit any stars (or even scrubs) from the famed maroon and orange will have negative repercussions for UTC’s football program for many decades to come.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– The Citadel still leads in time of possession for all FCS teams (35:26 per game), just ahead of Wofford. Chattanooga is 54th (30:07).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel appears to be unchanged from two weeks ago.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-10 for games played on November 16. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1916: Before an enthusiastic crowd of 3,500 at the Orangeburg County Fair, The Citadel defeated Clemson 3-0 in a Thursday afternoon game. Johnny Weeks’ 25-yard field goal in the third quarter proved to be the decisive (and only) score. With the win, the Bulldogs all but clinched a second straight state championship. The 1916 squad, which was 6-1-1 (including wins over both Clemson and South Carolina), was probably the most successful gridiron team at The Citadel in the pre-World War II era.
  • 1929: The Citadel shut out Mercer, 21-0, at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium. Tom “Pop” Wilson broke a scoreless deadlock with a four-yard run in the third quarter. Howard “Red” Whittington scored the other two TDs, the second on a 29-yard pass reception from Julius “Runt” Gray. Ed McIntosh added a number of bruising runs from the fullback position and also kicked all three PATs. The Bulldogs’ defense intercepted four Mercer passes.
  • 1968: The Bulldogs overcame a dubious SoCon officiating decision to upset William & Mary in Williamsburg, 24-21. After the Tribe took the lead following a 22-yard penalty for defensive pass interference on a fourth down play in which a pass was not actually thrown, The Citadel responded with the game-winning drive, with Jim McMillan rushing for a six-yard TD with 1:16 remaining. It was the second of two touchdowns for McMillan, with Tony Passander accounting for the Bulldogs’ other TD. Jim Gahagan added a field goal and three PATs for The Citadel. Red Parker was very happy with the Bulldogs’ victory; it can be safely assumed that Marv Levy, head coach at the time of William & Mary, was not.
  • 1974: In Greenville, The Citadel whipped Furman, 24-0. Andrew Johnson rushed for 149 yards and two touchdowns, with Gene Dotson providing the other TD on a nine-yard QB keeper. Steve Bailey added a field goal and three extra points. The defense forced six Paladin turnovers — four fumbles and two interceptions. Among the stars on the Bulldogs’ D that day were David Sollazzo, Ron Shelley, Billy Long, Ellis Johnson, and “the omni-present” Brian Ruff.
  • 1991: The Citadel defeated East Tennessee State in Johnson City, 17-7. Only 3,017 were on hand to see the Bulldogs clinch a fourth consecutive non-losing season, the first time that had happened since 1923-1926. Jack Douglas rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown, with Cedric Sims adding 72 yards and a score. Rob Avriett kicked a 42-yard field goal and converted two PATs. Willie Jones had four receptions for 82 yards. The defense was very strong for The Citadel; Lance Cook had two big sacks, and the Bulldogs forced four turnovers — a fumble recovery by David Russinko and interceptions by Shannon Walker, Torrence Forney, and Kelly Fladger.
  • 2013: The Bulldogs beat VMI, 31-10, scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to break a 10-10 tie. Ben Dupree rushed for 109 yards and three touchdowns; the fourth TD was added by Dalton Trevino. Darien Robinson rushed for 115 yards for the Bulldogs. Thomas Warren kicked a field goal and four PATs. Sadath Jean-Pierre intercepted a pass, and the rest of his defensive teammates accounted for seven sacks (with Derek Douglas picking up two of them).

Everything statistically about this game suggests that it should be a close contest, and I see no reason to doubt that.

I am hopeful that a lot of Bulldog fans will be making the trip up to the Scenic City. I won’t be able to be there in person, but I will be there in spirit (at least, I would like to think so). I’ve been to Chattanooga before; it’s a good drive (Atlanta-area traffic being a notable exception to that) and the stadium setup is solid.

The Bulldogs are trying to become the 19th team in program history to win at least seven games in a season. Let’s hope they can move into that relatively rarefied air on Saturday.

Football 2019, Game 10: The Citadel vs. East Tennessee State

The Citadel at East Tennessee State, to be played at William B. Greene, Jr. Stadium in Johnson City, Tennessee, with kickoff at 3:30 pm ET on November 2, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on five television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides 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 “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and East Tennessee State

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on ETSU’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/30)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/28)

The Dogs:  Episode 10

About that Homecoming reunion for the Draytons

ETSU head coach Randy Sanders’ weekly press conference

Sanders tells Buccaneers to keep believing

East Tennessee State hopes for happy Homecoming

Basketball preview article in The Post and Courier 

Charlie Taaffe passes away at age 69

Television stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD (Charleston)
  • WYCW (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke, VA)
  • WJHL (Tri-Cities [TN])

It is possible that the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel on one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the primary channel itself. Check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on TV.

This preview is a little on the short side. Sorry about that, but A) I’ve been really busy, and B) my computer picked a less-than-ideal time to die.

I just hope the Bulldogs are more functional on Saturday than I am right now.

Also, the next preview (for the Chattanooga game) will be late, possibly being posted on the Friday night before the contest. It will not be very long. Just as The Citadel’s football team has an upcoming break, I’m taking some time off as well.

Okay, back to the present…

This week’s “stats of note” for East Tennessee State are for its five SoCon games. I didn’t include the statistics for the Buccaneers’ games against Appalachian State, Shorter, or Austin Peay.

ETSU Opponents
Points Per Game 16.2 24.6
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 138 220
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.45 5.30
Attempts-Completions-Interceptions 155-84-3 147-86-3
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 5.10 4.69
Total Plays 304 376
Yards per play 5.26 5.05
Total punts 30 25
Punting Net Average 34.4 38.5
Penalties-Yards 26-271 19-186
Penalty yards per game 54.2 37.2
Time of Possession per game 28:17 31:43
Offensive plays per second 27.91 seconds 25.31 seconds
3rd Down Conversions 17/63 (26.98%) 31/73 (42.47%)
4th Down Conversions 2/5 (40.00%) 5/8 (62.50%)
Fumbles-Lost 6-5 6-2
Sacks-Yards Lost 9-49 11-66
Red Zone: Touchdowns 5/12 (41.67%) 14/21 (66.67%)
Turnover Margin -3 +3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 45.39% 58.51%

Random observations based on the above statistics (remember, these are conference numbers only):

– In terms of yardage, ETSU is the second-most penalized team in the league; penalties on special teams have particularly bedeviled the Bucs

– The Buccaneers are not having a lot of fumble luck; losing five out of six fumbles is kind of rough

– ETSU is last in the league in scoring offense

– One reason for that is the Buccaneers are last in offensive third down conversion rate, and by a lot

– East Tennessee State is also the only team in the league with an offensive red zone TD rate under 50%; conversely, The Citadel’s offense has a red zone TD rate of 76%

– The Citadel and ETSU are the bottom two teams in the league in offensive yards per play, but one key difference is the Bulldogs average almost 15 more offensive plays per game

East Tennessee State’s non-conference slate went about as expected. The Bucs lost 42-7 to Appalachian State, whipped Shorter 48-10, and picked up a nice home victory over Austin Peay (20-14).

It was the game in between the victories over Shorter and Austin Peay that arguably set the tone for ETSU’s fortunes (or lack thereof) in SoCon play. VMI came to Johnson City, and in a game delayed by lightning, the Keydets eventually prevailed 31-24 in overtime.

That was not how the Buccaneers wanted to begin the league slate, and things didn’t improve from there. ETSU dropped a tough game at Furman (17-10) and then lost at home to Wofford (35-17, with the Terriers pulling away late).

A week off didn’t change the momentum. On a Thursday night, Chattanooga beat the Bucs 16-13 on a last-minute field goal (after the Mocs had struggled mightily in the kicking game throughout the contest). Last week, Samford edged ETSU 24-17, with a 4th-quarter TD by the Crimson Bulldogs proving to be the winning score.

Both of those games were on the road. Saturday’s game is the first at home for East Tennessee State since October 5.

Some comments from ETSU head football coach Randy Sanders on his radio show this week:

– “We have to be ready to score.” Sanders emphasized the lack of possessions in a game against a triple option team, or as he referred to it, a “three back offense”.

– Sanders on the Bulldogs’ offense: “Whenever you get them to punt on 4th down, you’ve done something good.”

– He was complimentary of The Citadel’s defense, saying that it is “much, much more multiple” under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Grantham. According to Sanders, “you can see as the season has gone on…that they have become more comfortable” in the new system.

– Sanders was also impressed with The Citadel’s kickers. He mentioned that he would like to see ETSU punt returner Malik McGue (a transfer from Army) “shake loose” on a return. McGue (5’8″, 188 lbs.) is averaging a healthy 7.1 yards per return despite only having a long of 19 yards on nine runbacks, which suggests he may indeed be someone The Citadel needs to be very wary of on Saturday.

– Star defensive end Nasir Player (a 6’5″, 271 lb. native of Columbia) was called for targeting against Samford last week, and will miss the first half of the game against the Bulldogs. Sanders was not very happy about the call against the redshirt senior, and said “it’s a shame that a call like that…can truly affect two games.”

– The host of the radio show, ETSU play-by-play man Jay Sandos, had good things to say about The Citadel’s quarterback; alas, he kept calling the Bulldogs’ signal-caller “Bobby Rainey”.

A few thoughts on some ETSU players from Brent Thompson on his radio show:

– East Tennessee State’s leading receiver is a tight end, 6’3″, 226 lb. sophomore Nate Adkins. Thompson stated that Adkins is “the best tight end in the league, by far”.

– Thompson noted the Bucs’ excellent defensive ends, Nasir Player and Jason Maduafokwa (6’3″, 270 lbs.), who like Player is a redshirt senior. He was also impressed with ETSU’s linebacking corps, which is a combination of experienced and young (including two redshirt freshman starters).

– He mentioned that in addition to starting quarterback Trey Mitchell (6’4″, 215 lbs.), ETSU will also use the “wildcat” formation at times.

Last year, ETSU won this matchup 26-23 in Charleston. Running back Quay Holmes (6’1″, 216 lbs.) was largely held in check on the ground, but did hurt the Bulldogs with four receptions out of the backfield.

Free safety Tyree Robinson (5’11”, 184 lbs) intercepted two passes in the game, returning one 42 yards for a TD. Robinson and Holmes were both preseason first team all-SoCon selections this year, along with Player and Maduafokwa.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Johnson City, Tennessee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 56 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 30 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Thursday evening), The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over East Tennessee State, with an over/under of 41 1/2.

Through nine games this season, The Citadel is 4-5 ATS. The over has hit only twice.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: VMI is a 14 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; Furman is a 9-point favorite at Chattanooga; Samford is a 3-point favorite at Mercer; and Wofford is a 46 1/2 point underdog at Clemson.

– Also of note: Elon is an 11-point favorite over William & Mary; Towson is a 9 1/2 point favorite over Delaware; and Charleston Southern is a 2 1/2 point favorite at Gardner-Webb.

Georgia Tech is a 7 1/2 point home underdog to Pittsburgh.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 27, with Florida A&M favored over Delaware State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 41st in FCS. The Buccaneers are 80th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 72% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 24, ETSU 17.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Sacramento State, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 9th, Villanova 11th, Kennesaw State 13th, Southern Illinois 15th, Elon 19th, Furman 22nd, Towson 27th, Idaho 30th, North Carolina A&T 34th, McNeese State 38th, Wofford 42nd, Florida A&M 43rd, Monmouth 48th, Jacksonville State 50th, Holy Cross 55th, Chattanooga 57th, Samford 58th, South Carolina State 60th, Duquesne 63rd, William & Mary 66th, VMI 70th, Campbell 73rd, Georgetown 78th, Tennessee Tech 81st, Prairie View A&M 85th, Mercer 86th, Robert Morris 90th, Charleston Southern 93rd, Gardner-Webb 98th, Davidson 99th, Brown 102nd, Marist 107th, Western Carolina 112th, Howard 117th, Valparaiso 120th, Jacksonville 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– East Tennessee State’s notable alumni include former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith (soon to be coaching in the Hula Bowl!), country music singer/bandwagon fan Kenny Chesney, and Union Station bass player Barry Bales.

As I say every year, Bales has one of the best jobs in the world, as he gets to listen to Alison Krauss sing on a regular basis.

– Future FBS opponents for the Bucs include Georgia (during the 2020 season), Vanderbilt (2021), North Carolina (2022), and Appalachian State (2024).

– East Tennessee State’s roster includes 43 players from the state of Tennessee. Other states represented: Georgia (24 players), Alabama (7), North Carolina (7), Ohio (7), South Carolina (6), Florida (6), Virginia (2), and one each from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The Palmetto State products (and their respective high schools) on the Buccaneers’ squad are Ben Blackmon (Newberry), Nasir Player (Ridge View), Landon Kunak (Spartanburg), Treyvion Houston (Greer), Donovan Swinger (T.L. Hanna), and D.J. Twitty (Chapman).

While there are a few South Carolina natives on ETSU’s team, none are from that internationally known purveyor of pigskin perfection, Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. What in the name of Donnie Abraham is going on? There is little doubt that failing to recruit the gridiron warriors who wear the famed maroon and orange will haunt the East Tennessee State program for many decades to come.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is largely unchanged from last week’s edition. Gunner Covey is listed as a starter at defensive end.

– When it comes to the coin toss, The Citadel has been very successful, winning the flip at least seven times in nine games; the only one the Bulldogs definitely did not win was versus Charleston Southern. (I have not been able to determine which team won the toss in the Samford game.)

Update: There appears to be some controversy (?!) about this subject. According to this week’s game notes (thanks to commenter MG for pointing this out), The Citadel is 9-0 when it comes to winning the coin toss.

On his radio show, Brent Thompson also referenced having won all the tosses. The problem with this: per the play-by-play for the Charleston Southern game box score, CSU won the coin toss (and elected to defer).

It is true that play-by-play logs are not necessarily gospel. Perhaps asking the game captains might help.

Also, I guess we can now assume (dangerous, making assumptions) that The Citadel did win in fact the coin toss against Samford.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-6 for games played on November 2. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1968: An injury-riddled group of Bulldogs surprised Davidson, 28-21, in a game played at Charlotte Memorial Stadium. Joe Bedenbaugh rushed for 111 yards, and Steve Brackett added 102 yards and two TDs. This is the earliest game on record in which two players for The Citadel broke the 100-yard rushing mark. Tony Passander ran for a touchdown and threw for another (a 58-yarder to Tom Sanchez). On defense, head coach Red Parker singled out Ken Diaz and Charlie Baker for praise.
  • 1985: At Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Western Carolina 10-3. Adrian Williams rushed for the game’s only touchdown. Greg Davis added a field goal and a PAT for the Bulldogs. The Citadel’s defense held the Catamounts to 268 total yards and forced three turnovers, all interceptions — one by Brian Graves and two by J.D. Cauthen.
  • 1991: Before a crowd of 20,071 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, the Bulldogs beat Appalachian State 17-10. Jack Douglas rushed for 115 yards and threw a 52-yard TD pass to Cornell Caldwell. Erick Little scored The Citadel’s other touchdown on a seven-yard run. Rob Avriett booted a 46-yard field goal and converted both extra points. The Bulldogs thwarted two fourth-quarter drives by the Mountaineers; David Brodsky intercepted a pass that had been tipped by Bill Melby, and later Derek Moore broke up a key fourth-down pass to preserve the win.
  • 2013: After once trailing 17-0, The Citadel came back to win a Homecoming game against Samford, 28-26. Darien Robinson rushed for 83 yards and three touchdowns, while Vinny Miller had 95 yards on the ground and a TD of his own. The defense chipped in with two turnovers — an interception by Nick Willis, and a fumble recovery by Tevin Floyd (created by a Mark Thomas sack). The game also featured a key conversion off a fake punt by Eric Goins, a 27-yard run that set up Robinson’s second touchdown.

Charlie Taaffe was the coach who demonstrated that The Citadel could compete and win in the modern era of college football.

The Bulldogs had not won a Southern Conference title since 1961 when he was hired, but Taaffe used the wishbone offense to lead The Citadel to a league championship and the No. 1 ranking in Division I-AA in 1992. He won the Eddie Robinson award as the I-AA national coach of the year in ’92.

“I think Coach Taaffe is the standard around here,” said current Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson. “He had quite the career record here and he found a way to sustain a lot of success. He was able to win a championship in a very challenging Southern Conference.

“As far as I am concerned, he is probably the guy that is most responsible for us and our staff being back here.”

I was still a cadet when Taaffe was named head football coach at The Citadel. The change in offense was stark, but there also seemed to be a shift in attitude. The new coach had certain standards, and they were going to be met. There didn’t seem to be much doubt about that, somehow.

In just his second year, Taaffe orchestrated an 8-win season that included an undefeated home slate, with memorable wins over Navy and Marshall. There was a palpable enthusiasm that began to envelop Johnson Hagood Stadium on gamedays.

Charlie Taaffe re-established a level of high expectations for the football program; despite some lean years at times, that point of view has persisted into the present day. That is one of his legacies at The Citadel, and it is an outstanding one.

I expect Saturday’s game to be close, and possibly not high-scoring. While East Tennessee State is winless in the SoCon to this point in the season, the Buccaneers are a better team than their record indicates. Randy Sanders stated during his radio show that he expected his team to “play hard”, and there is no reason to doubt that — especially since this is ETSU’s Homecoming game.

If the Bulldogs can do the things they have been doing well of late on offense — ball control and finishing drives — they should be in good shape. That will be particularly true if the defense continues its gradual but noticeable improvement (and maintains its recent run of largely solid play on third down).

It won’t be easy, but The Citadel has an opportunity to continue to play impactful games well into the twilight of the season. The Bulldogs must seize that opportunity.

Game Review, 2019: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– Associated Press story

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– WCSC-TV recap (video via Twitter)

– School release

– Mercer website story

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

This was very, very cool.

Congrats to Brandon Rainey on setting a record that had been around for a while:

Stats of note:

The Citadel Mercer
Field Position* 31.13 (+4.7) 26.43 (-4.7)
Success Rate* 53.42% 46.30%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3 4
Finishing drives (average points) 7.00 4.25
Turnovers 1 1
Expected turnovers 1.22 0.66
Possessions* 8 7
Points per possession* 4.38 3.43
Offensive Plays* 73 53
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 5.57 3.17
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 6.20 8.53
Yards/play* 5.59 6.21
3rd down conversions 14 for 17 (82.4%) 5 for 12 (41.7%)
4th down conversions 0 for 1 2 for 3
Red Zone TD% 5 for 5 (100.0%) 1 for 3 (33.3%)
Net punting 32.0 33.0
Time of possession 37:15 22:45
TOP/offensive play 30.20 seconds 25.28 seconds
Penalties 4 for 51 yards 5 for 45 yards
1st down passing 1/1, 20 yards, TD 7/9, 95 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 0/1 4/6, 88 yards
4th down passing 0/0 2/2, 34 yards, sack
1st down yards/play* 6.45 6.71
3rd down average yards to go 4.75 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 0

*does not include Mercer’s final drive of first half, or The Citadel’s final drive of second half

Some quick thoughts on the above statistics:

– The Citadel scored a touchdown all five times it advanced past the Mercer 40-yard line. That kind of efficiency is key to having success in games like this. Mercer, conversely, was held to two field goals (missing one of them) when its offense got in scoring range. MU did score two TDs on drives in that territory as well, but the non-TD possessions hurt the Bears.

– This was the first time all season the Bulldogs’ offense did not have a three-and-out during the game.

– The Citadel had eight possessions (not counting kneeldowns) in the game, the fewest in any contest this year. Mercer’s seven possessions (again, not counting end-of-half kneeldowns) marked the fewest an opponent has had versus the Bulldogs in 2019.

– Mercer’s opening drive lasted 16 plays and took up 8:53 of the first quarter. For the rest of the game, the Bears ran 38 plays (counting a first-half kneeldown) and had the ball for only 13 minutes, 52 seconds.

Thus, after the first possession by MU, The Citadel’s offense had the football for 73% of the time in game action. Even accounting for that drive, the Bulldogs had a lopsided advantage in time of possession.

In the second half alone, The Citadel possessed the ball for 23:14.

– For the third time this year, the Bulldogs converted more than half of their third-down conversion attempts, with their 82.4% success rate on third down versus Mercer easily the best of the campaign. The Bulldogs’ offense also converted third downs at better than a 50% clip against Towson and Georgia Tech.

– The Citadel’s offense ran a play every 30.2 seconds, which was actually the second-fastest pace for the Bulldogs this year (excepting only the VMI contest).

– The Bulldogs averaged 6.45 yards on first down against Mercer, the second-best average on first down in 2019 (The Citadel averaged a ridiculous 9.57 yards on first down versus Western Carolina).

– The Citadel’s offensive success rate of 53.42% was the second-highest of the year, behind only its success rate against Towson (54.05%).

Random observations:

– The Citadel now has an all-time record on Homecoming of 48-42-2. That marks the most games above the break-even point for the program since the celebration contest began in 1924.

– The Bulldogs have won eight consecutive Homecoming games, the second-longest streak ever (only surpassed by the 10 straight won between 1969 and 1978).

– Bobby Lamb waited until very late to call Mercer’s final two timeouts of the second half. I thought that was a mistake, both from a practical and psychological standpoint.

The Citadel took over possession after Sean-Thomas Faulkner’s fourth-down sack with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter. However, Lamb elected to wait until 1:27 remained in the game to call the Bears’ second timeout.

The Citadel ran seven plays during that time frame. Two of those plays were key third-and-long runs that resulted in first downs. After one more play sandwiched between Mercer’s final two timeouts, Remus Bulmer shook loose for the Bulldogs’ clinching touchdown.

– Lamb, a longtime presence in the Southern Conference at Furman and Mercer, is now 7-8 against The Citadel in his head coaching career.

– There were a couple of tough injuries during the game. Mercer’s Jamar Hall appeared to be knocked out after a violent collision with Dante Smith, and The Citadel’s Phil Davis was hurt intercepting a pass on the next-to-last play of the contest.

Best of luck to both of them going forward.

– Gage Russell, the Bulldogs’ holder on placements who has also seen time this season as a punter, usually wears jersey #93. However, on Saturday he wore #94 to honor his father, a 1994 graduate of The Citadel whose class was celebrating its 25th anniversary reunion.

Russell is a third-generation cadet at the military college, as his grandfather graduated from The Citadel in 1954.

– I have to mention the officials’ ball-spotting tendencies, because they were not good.

Often, it seemed like The Citadel had to go 11 or 12 yards for a first down instead of the standard 10, because the ball would be spotted incorrectly, sometimes by a full yard.

The failed fourth-down run in the second quarter by The Citadel also featured a bad spot, though I am not certain that even a correct placement by the officials would have resulted in a first down. Still, it would have been nice to be sure.

Incidentally, the holding penalty that negated a TD by the Bulldogs in the second quarter appeared to be a fair decision.

– Arguably, the most athletic move made at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday didn’t occur on the field of play.

During the retirement of the colors following the Alma Mater, the wind played havoc with the Touchdown Cannon Crew’s attempts to corral the flag. One intrepid cadet, with assistance, was able to hoist himself to the top of the wall behind the end zone and (with very little space to maneuver) was able to grab the end of the flag and pass it to his colleagues.

Watching the drama unfold, I was a bit concerned for the cadet’s safety, and I didn’t think risking a fall from a wall at least nine feet high was really worth the trouble. However, it ended well.

Perhaps in the future, someone could bring a ladder to the game, just in case a similar situation arises.

– I thought the crowd was into the game. Sometimes at Homecoming, that isn’t really the case — there are a lot of distractions, after all — but the enthusiasm was there on Saturday. (Oddly, that isn’t necessarily apparent on the ESPN+ broadcast.)

The Citadel has now put itself in position to compete for the SoCon title. It needs a little bit more help, but not much more. If the Bulldogs win their final three games, with or without a league championship they are likely bound for postseason play.

However, none of those three upcoming matchups will be easy. The first of them, and the last game before a long-awaited off week, comes next Saturday at East Tennessee State, as The Citadel makes the trip to Johnson City to face the defending conference co-champions.

I’ll write about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are a little different in scope, because I was enjoying the reunion festivities prior to the game. There aren’t many game action shots, either. I have no regrets and make no apologies, as I had a good time, with the Bulldogs’ victory just the capper on a fine weekend.

I included a few shots from the soccer game on Friday. I also attended The Citadel’s open basketball practice on Saturday, though there are no pictures of the team working out, as I wasn’t sure that was really permitted/desired.

I will say it was nice to be thanked for attending by the wife of the head basketball coach. There can’t be too many D-1 institutions where that happens.

Anyway, here are the photos, such as they are.

 

2019 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 26, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while Matt Dean supplies the analysis. Emily Crevani is the sideline reporter. 

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 “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

Marquise Blount is wreaking havoc

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

Game preview on Mercer’s website

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/23)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/21), including an appearance by Bulldogs linebacker Phil Davis

– Marquise Blount repeats as SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, and Jacob Godek is the SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week

The Dogs:  Episode 9

– A Look At Game Day

– Volleyball Highlights!

– Bobby Lamb talks about Mercer’s win over VMI

– Mercer postgame player interviews following the VMI game

“Commissioner’s Corner” — a brief video interview of league commissioner Jim Schaus

– General (a/k/a “G2”) to be honored during cadet marchover

This weekend at The Citadel is Homecoming, of course. The school’s information page for the festivities can be found here: Link

Besides a schedule of events, that link includes a great picture of the 1906 Bulldogs football team. That squad won the national title (technically sharing it with Princeton and Yale), according to the TSA Matrix Ratings System. As you may recall, the TSA Matrix Ratings System is also the selector which crowned the 1871 football team the undisputed national champion for that season.

A few of the Homecoming activities worth mentioning:

Friday:

  • The Citadel plays Furman in soccer at WLI Field, with a start time of 3pm
  • The Memorial Parade begins at 5:10 pm

Saturday:

  • Open barracks on campus from 8:30 am to 10:00 am
  • The Summerall Guards perform on the parade ground at 8:50 am
  • The Homecoming Review Parade begins at 11:00 am
  • Kickoff of the football game is at 2:00 pm — don’t be late (remember that the security check at the gates will take a few minutes)

Sunday:

  • The Citadel plays Wofford in soccer at WLI Field, with a start time of 2:00 pm

Earlier this year, I wrote about Homecoming at The Citadel, listing all of the games that have been played since the original Homecoming contest (a 6-0 victory over Furman) in 1924.

You can read that post (which includes an incredibly handy spreadsheet) here: Link

A few Homecoming-related trivia items:

  • Saturday’s contest will be The Citadel’s 92nd Homecoming game (overall record: 47-42-2)
  • It will be the first time Mercer has been the opponent; the Bears are the 18th different school to be featured in that role
  • The Citadel’s first Homecoming opponent, Furman, has faced the Bulldogs 26 times in the celebration game, more than any other school
  • The Citadel has won the last seven Homecoming games, its second-longest streak (the longest was 10 straight from 1969 to 1978)
  • Brent Thompson is 3-0 on Homecoming; only Bobby Ross (5) won more such games without a loss as the Bulldogs’ head coach
  • Charlie Taaffe and Eddie Teague each won six Homecoming games as head coach of the Bulldogs, sharing the record for most wins
  • Before 2017, The Citadel had played 50 consecutive Homecoming games in November; now, the contest will have been played in October two of the last three seasons
  • Saturday’s game will be only the second time a Homecoming game has been played on October 26
  • The longest play of any kind by The Citadel (offense, defense, or special teams) in a Homecoming game was Nehemiah Broughton’s 92-yard touchdown run in the Bulldogs’ 44-24 victory over Chattanooga in 2004
  • Last season’s 42-27 triumph over Samford was also The Citadel’s largest comeback victory in a home game in school history

Let me very briefly discuss last week’s win over Furman. Admittedly, I could probably discuss it for a couple of hours, but a few sentences will suffice.

I’ll just mention one statistic, and one situation.

– The stat: Furman entered that game averaging 7.19 yards per play, which was third-best in all of FCS. The Citadel’s defense held the Paladins to 3.38 yards per play.

It is hard to do much better than that on the defensive side of the ball.

– The situation occurred late in the first half, with The Citadel leading 7-3:

Cit 4-2 at Cit19 Timeout Furman, clock 02:03.
Cit 4-2 at Cit19 Brandon Rainey rush for 4 yards to the CIT23, 1ST DOWN CIT

That will almost certainly be my favorite “go for it” decision of the year.

Was it the right call from an analytical point of view? It probably was (a little better than 50-50). How many other coaches would have gone for it? Very few.

Brent Thompson explained his reasoning on his coach’s show, and it made a lot of strategic sense — but in my opinion, the psychology of the decision was even more important.

That basically was the coach having confidence in his team (both offensively and defensively) and, at the same time, challenging his squad. There was an element of “we’re going to do this and you can’t stop us” to it, too.

It was a standout moment in what was just an excellent win in every way. I was particularly impressed by how the Bulldogs controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Now, the Bulldogs have to focus on Mercer.

Statistics of note for the Bears (through seven games):

Mercer Opponents
Points Per Game 30.86 31.71
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 221 289
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 5.30 5.10
Att-Comp-Int 239-135-13 228-133-4
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 6.47 6.84
Total Plays 468 525
Yards per play 5.93 5.89
Total punts 32 38
Punting Net Average 31.6 33.9
Penalties-Yards 32-270 52-482
Penalty yards per game 38.57 68.86
Time of Possession per game 26:10 33:50
Offensive plays per second 23.49 sec 27.06 sec
3rd Down Conversions 37-94 (39.36%) 47-113 (41.59%)
4th Down Conversions 5-12 (41.67%) 6-10 (60.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 10-5 7-4
Sacks-Yards Lost 8-58 8-43
Red Zone: Touchdowns 15/24 (62.50%) 19/32 (59.38%)
Turnover Margin -10 +10
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 47.22% 55.05%

– Mercer is tied for 118th in FCS in turnover margin (out of 124 teams). The Citadel is tied for 71st.

– The Citadel is first nationally in time of possession. The rest of the top five: Davidson, Yale, Wofford, and Portland State. Mercer is 121st, ahead of only Marist, Sacred Heart, and Samford.

– The Bulldogs are 12th in FCS in net punting, while MU is 113th.

– Mercer is 2nd in kickoff return average (27.27 yards per return). Only Elon has a better average than the Bears. The Citadel is 63rd (19.94).

– In the category of fewest penalties per game, Mercer is tied for 13th nationally. The Bulldogs are 27th.

– The Citadel is 55th in offensive third down conversion rate, while the Bears are 52nd.

– Defensively, Mercer is 83rd in third down conversion rate, while The Citadel is 86th.

– The Citadel is 7th nationally in offensive fourth down conversion attempts, and 3rd in conversions made. The Bulldogs’ 73.9% success rate (17 for 23) is the best among all teams with at least 20 attempts.

– Mercer is 39th in offensive yards per play. The Citadel is 102nd.

– On defense, MU is 83rd in yards allowed per play. The Bulldogs are 90th.

Mercer started its season with a 49-27 win at Western Carolina. The Bears’ David Durden returned the opening kickoff 82 yards, which set the tone for the game. Robert Riddle threw four TD passes, while Tyray Devezin rushed for two more (and caught one of Riddle’s touchdown throws). Five of MU’s touchdowns were 30 yards or longer.

Originally, Mercer had only scheduled 11 regular season games. However, the Bears added a 12th, playing at Presbyterian after the Blue Hose had a game against Stetson canceled due to Hurricane Dorian. MU took full advantage of its extra opportunity, routing PC 45-7. Riddle threw three more TD passes (and ran for a fourth score).

Those two victories, however, were washed away by four consecutive losses, with the first of those a 48-34 home loss to Austin Peay. The Bears had a punt blocked and threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

MU then lost at Furman, 45-10. The Paladins rolled up over 600 yards of total offense, including 410 rushing yards.

The following week, Campbell totaled 515 yards of offense in a 34-27 win in Macon. The Camels moved the ball equally well on the ground and through the air.

Then, Mercer lost 34-17 at Chattanooga. The Mocs took advantage of four MU turnovers, scoring 27 points in the second half.

After an open week, Mercer broke its losing streak with a 34-27 home victory over VMI. Late in the first half, Riddle suffered a terrible lower leg injury. His replacement was former starting QB Kaelan Riley, who led the Bears to a much-needed win.

In that game, Mercer showed a good deal of resiliency for a team coming off of four straight losses. The Bears could have packed it in on a miserable night, with bad weather and their starting quarterback suddenly out with a season-ending injury. Instead, they surged to a three-touchdown lead before a late Keydet comeback attempt.

Kaelan Riley (6’3″, 231 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Calhoun, Georgia, now takes over at quarterback for the Bears. Riley has 16 career starts (including 11 as a redshirt freshman), so he has plenty of experience.

Riley was the SoCon Freshman of the Year in 2017. That included a win against The Citadel, in which he was 12 for 23 for 111 yards passing. He played briefly versus the Bulldogs in last year’s game, after Robert Riddle was injured on Mercer’s final drive.

Last season, Riley completed 54.2% of his throws, averaging 8.69 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 12 TDs against just two interceptions. In limited time this year, he is 13 for 26 passing, with one TD and two picks.

Junior running back Tyray Devezin (5’8″, 233 lbs.) leads Mercer in rushing, and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. The native of Woodstock, Georgia had a career night against VMI last week, rushing for 193 yards, including a 56-yard TD. Devezin, a preseason first team all-SoCon choice, has also caught two TD passes this season.

Another running back for the Bears, redshirt freshman Deondre Johnson (5’7″, 166 lbs.), is averaging 6.1 yards per rush attempt. He has three rushing touchdowns. Johnson, who came to Mercer as a walk-on, also returns kicks, and had a 98-yard TD return against Chattanooga.

Between them, Devezin and Johnson average 23 carries per game for the Bears.

Eight different players have caught touchdown passes for Mercer this season.

The leading receiver for the Bears is Tucker Cannon (6’0″, 192 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Dunwoody, Georgia. Cannon has 25 receptions, and is averaging 18.2 yards per catch. He hauled in an 85-yard TD against Western Carolina.

Cannon is also Mercer’s primary punt returner, and he is a good one, averaging 7.8 yards per return. Cannon (also a kick returner) caught a TD pass versus The Citadel last season.

Tight end Chris Ellington (6’4″, 237 lbs.), a preseason second team all-league selection, has 19 catches, with 3 touchdown grabs. The senior from Jacksonville had 74 receiving yards and a TD versus VMI last Saturday.

Mercer will miss David Durden (6’2″, 197 lbs.), a sophomore wideout who was the preseason first team all-conference return specialist. Durden, who caught five passes against The Citadel last season (including one for a TD), is out for at least three more weeks with a back injury.

Mercer’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’3″, 305 lbs. Left tackle Austin Sanders (6’3″, 287 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon media selection last year.

Mercer has a new defensive coordinator this season, Mike Adams. He spent the last three years at Charleston Southern as special teams coordinator (and also coached the safeties), but he has previous experience as a defensive coordinator, as he held that position at South Carolina State from 2006 to 2014.

MU has a solid defensive line, led by human bowling ball Dorian Kithcart (6’0″, 288 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Durham, North Carolina. Kithcart leads Mercer in tackles for loss (7 1/2).

Also looming on the d-line (figuratively and literally) is 6’5″, 297 lb. Destin Guillen, a redshirt senior defensive end from Greenville. Guillen is one of five redshirt seniors for Mercer who start on defense.

Inside linebacker Will Coneway (5’11”, 217 lbs.) leads the Bears in tackles this season, with 42. He also led MU in tackles last year (including a 13-stop performance against The Citadel). There is some question as to the status of the redshirt senior for Saturday’s matchup, as he was injured last week in the VMI game.

Malique Fleming (5’11”, 208 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-league pick at defensive back, but he is listed on Mercer’s most recent two-deep as an outside linebacker. The redshirt junior from Nashville played free safety last season (and from that position made nine tackles versus the Bulldogs).

Redshirt junior cornerback Harrison Poole (5’11”, 196 lbs.) had quite a night against VMI, with five pass breakups. As Bobby Lamb pointed out earlier this week, the leader in that category in the SoCon for the season has only eight (that would be East Tennessee State’s Tyree Robinson).

Poole isn’t currently listed among the league leaders in passes defended, presumably because he has only played five games — but thanks to his game versus Keydets, just three conference players have more passes defensed than he does.

– Mercer special teams, the good: as mentioned above, the Bears have outstanding return units. MU also has a fine placekicker, Caleb Dowden (5’11”, 174 lbs.). The redshirt freshman from Statesboro has yet to miss a kick this year, making all nine of his field goal tries (with a long of 45 yards) and going 27-27 on PATs.

MU’s kickoff specialist is first team FCS Hair All-American Devin Folser (6’2″, 170 lbs.), a freshman from McDonough, Georgia. Only one of his 38 kickoffs has resulted in a touchback.

– Mercer special teams, the bad: the Bears have had three punts blocked. Wait, is that the Sean-Thomas Faulkner batsignal going off?

Grant Goupil (6’1″, 184 lbs.) is Mercer’s regular punter (as he was two seasons ago). He has had punts blocked against Presbyterian (a partial, as it still went 16 yards), Austin Peay (which set up a TD for the Governors), and Chattanooga (which also set up a touchdown).

Dowden has punted seven times for the Bears, including three of the four Mercer punts against VMI.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of showers, with a high of 77 degrees. There is also a possibility of rain on Saturday evening (with a projected low of 67 degrees).

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 13-point favorite over WCU, with an over/under of 61 1/2.

Through eight games this season, The Citadel is 4-4 ATS. The over has hit only twice.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Wofford is an 11-point favorite over Chattanooga; Furman is a 26 1/2 point favorite at Western Carolina; and Samford is a 4 1/2 point favorite versus East Tennessee State. VMI is off this week.

– Also of note: Elon is a 1 1/2 point favorite at Rhode Island; Towson is a 16 1/2 point underdog at James Madison; and Charleston Southern is a 3 1/2 point home underdog against Monmouth.

Georgia Tech is off this week, so its fans will get an extra seven days to celebrate last week’s overtime victory at Miami. The Yellow Jackets have split two overtime games this season.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 31, with North Carolina A&T favored over Howard.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 43rd in FCS. The Bears are 88th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 78% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 34, Mercer 24.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Sacramento State, and Montana.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Kennesaw State 14th, North Carolina A&T 20th, Towson 24th, Elon 26th, Furman 28th, Sam Houston State 31st, UT Martin 35th, Alcorn State 40th, Wofford 45th, Jacksonville State 50th, Chattanooga 53rd, Richmond 57th, William & Mary 59th, Samford 61st, Austin Peay 66th, Georgetown 70th, VMI 74th, Campbell 77th, South Carolina State 79th, East Tennessee State 84th, Dayton 87th, Charleston Southern 90th, Davidson 91st, Colgate 95th, Gardner-Webb 99th, Eastern Illinois 104th, North Alabama 109th, Western Carolina 114th, Merrimack 119th, Butler 124th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Mercer’s notable alumni include TV personality Nancy Grace, music promoter Phil Walden, and football coach Wally Butts.

– Mercer will play North Carolina later this season. Other future FBS opponents for the Bears include Vanderbilt (in 2020), Alabama (2021), Auburn (2022), and Mississippi (2023).

Mercer also has three games remaining in its series with Yale.

– Mercer’s roster includes 80 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (15 players), Tennessee (4), South Carolina (3), North Carolina (2), Alabama (2), and Ohio (1).

Geographically speaking, MU has the least diverse roster in the Southern Conference.

The three Palmetto State products on Mercer’s squad are redshirt sophomore quarterback Brett Burnett (Airport High School), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tyrese Cohen (Midland Valley High School), and the aforementioned defensive end Destin Guillen (the redshirt senior went to Berea High School). They were also the only South Carolina natives on last year’s roster.

As has been the case for many years, Mercer has no players from storied pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. It appears that the school’s aspirations for its football team are painfully modest, as it is hard to imagine how any program with even a scintilla of ambition would not spend an inordinate amount of time and money recruiting the fantastic gridders that wear the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is almost unchanged from last week, with the only difference involving some of the linebackers’ position descriptions (though the players listed remain the same).

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 7-6-1 for games played on October 26. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1929: At the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel shut out Presbyterian 14-0. Edwin McIntosh scored two touchdowns and also added both PATs. The star of the game on offense for the Bulldogs was halfback Howard “Red” Whittington, whose superb running set up the second TD. The Bulldogs collected two turnovers on defense, as Julius “Runt” Gray intercepted a pass and Louis Kirby recovered a PC fumble.
  • 1940: Before an estimated 4,000 home supporters, the Light Brigade trounced Oglethorpe 25-0. (Yes, during this era The Citadel’s varsity teams were occasionally referred to as the “Light Brigade”, but most alums didn’t like it and “Bulldogs” became the nickname of choice again after World War II.) Hank Foster opened the scoring with a 52-yard punt return for a TD. Joe Bolduc added a touchdown run to increase the lead, and then “Big Ben” Suitt added two more TDs, the second of which Suitt set up himself with a blocked punt.
  • 1957: The Bulldogs edged Furman at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 18-14, as 12,000 spectators looked on. The Citadel had taken an 18-0 lead on a touchdown run by Joe Chefalo and TD catches by Bob Saunders (from quarterback Dick Guerreri) and Joe Davis (on a halfback option pass by Tom Hemmingway). Furman stormed back to make it a game, but a final play that resulted in a touchdown for the Purple Hurricanes came too late, as time had expired.
  • 1974: On Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel defeated Appalachian State, 28-17. Gene Dotson scored two rushing TDs and threw for another, with Dickie Regan making the touchdown grab. Andrew Johnson rushed for 117 yards, including a 55-yard burst for a TD. The story of the game may have been on the other side of the ball, though, as the Bulldogs’ defense forced six turnovers. One of them came on an interception by Brian Ruff, who was named SoCon defensive player of the week for that and for his 29 credited tackles (16 “primary” and 13 “assisted”). Oh, by the way: Ruff was playing with two broken wrists.
  • 1991: At the Oyster Bowl in Norfolk, Virginia, the Bulldogs outlasted VMI, 17-14. Terrance Rivers and Jack Douglas both scored rushing TDs for The Citadel, and Rob Avriett added a 45-yard field goal. Neither team scored in the second half, with the Bulldogs’ defense keeping the Keydets at bay thanks to an interception by Lester Smith and two memorable stops by Lance Cook (VMI also missed two field goals). This game was also notable for an airplane delay that resulted in team doctor Kenny Caldwell and radio analyst Rob Fowler not getting to the game until halftime. After the contest was over, a group of cadets tore down one of the goalposts.
  • 1996: The Citadel defeated Georgia Southern 35-20 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Bulldogs trailed 14-7 at halftime, but scored four second-half TDs to pull away. Deon Jackson had 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns (including a 63-yard run). After an Eagle score, Carlos Frank took the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a TD, and The Citadel never looked back. Kenyatta Spruill added a touchdown run, and Stanley Myers threw a 37-yard TD pass to George Hampton. Incidentally, most of this game is on YouTube.

You may have noticed that I only highlighted six of The Citadel’s seven victories on October 26. The other contest was a 28-21 win at East Tennessee State in 1985. That was the game in which Marc Buoniconti suffered a broken neck.

This has not been the easiest of years for Buoniconti; his father Nick passed away in late July after a long decline. Of course, the difficult reality is that there is no easy year for him, or an easy day for that matter.

I don’t really have much to say about that — no epiphany, no great words of wisdom. The one thing I will note, however, is that it has now been 34 years since the injury, and Marc Buoniconti is still with us. That is probably a tribute to his caretakers (including his father), and to modern medicine, but most of all it is a credit to him.

That determination and perseverance over such a long period of time is worthy of admiration and respect.

Against Furman last Saturday, The Citadel arguably played its best game in the last two seasons. Can the Bulldogs repeat that level of play versus Mercer?

It could be difficult. Mercer will be ready to play, and the Bears have a lot of talent. Homecoming can be a distraction, too.

Offensively, The Citadel needs to score early (and preferably often). This is the type of game where a fast start could pay major dividends.

The Bulldogs’ defense has a tricky task ahead of it. Mercer’s offensive attack could change markedly with a new quarterback. Or, maybe it won’t change at all. No one will know (at least, no one from The Citadel will know) until the ball is snapped.

Mercer is a bit of a boom-or-bust outfit when it comes to special teams. The Citadel must keep the Bears in “bust” mode throughout the contest.

Last week, the Bulldogs won convincingly despite losing the turnover battle (3-1). For this game, however, The Citadel must take advantage of Mercer’s giveaway tendencies.

I think the Bulldogs will be prepared. There is an opportunity for this team to reach goals that may have been thought out of reach just a couple of weeks ago, and the players and coaches know it.

Johnson Hagood Stadium should be a happening place on Saturday (even if the weather doesn’t completely cooperate). I’m looking forward to it.

I think everyone else is, too.