Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: taking advantage of 4th down

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, this time I’m focusing on how to increase offensive productivity with a fully realized 4th down “go for it” philosophy. That isn’t a radical or new concept, but I just wanted to discuss the advantages a team can accrue on other downs when it has a high 4th down go rate.

First, links to other posts I’ve recently written in the leadup to the 2021 fall campaign:

As usual, I’ll start with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 season, which I’ll be referencing at times throughout:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

Of note for this discussion, one of the tabs on that spreadsheet lists all decisions made on 4th down by The Citadel (and its opponents) in conference action; another catalogs short-yardage plays and results, including those on 4th down; and there is also a tab dedicated to down-and-distance plays by the Bulldogs and their opponents, broken down by run and pass.

Let’s start with the down-and-distance numbers. The Citadel in spring 2021, on offensive plays from scrimmage:

  • Rushed 85.6% of the time (all plays)
  • Rushed 87.1% of the time on 1st down
  • Rushed 88.0% of the time on 2nd-and-short (3 yards or less)
  • Rushed 94.0% of the time on 2nd-and-medium (4 to 6 yards)
  • Rushed 96.3% of the time on 3rd-and-short (2 yards or less)
  • Rushed 89.2% of the time on 3rd-and-medium (3 or 4 yards)

Those aren’t surprising percentages, of course. That is the nature of the triple option offense. On standard downs, The Citadel is going to run the football. It will run the football a lot on passing downs, too.

(“Standard” in this case means downs that aren’t considered expected passing downs in a regular offensive system.)

One thing that can be said about the Bulldogs under Brent Thompson is that the playcalling, from a run-pass perspective, has been consistent. Eerily consistent.

For example, take a gander at the numbers in conference games from his first season as head coach (2016) and the most recent campaign (spring 2021):

  • 2016: 494 rushing plays, 83 passing plays
  • 2021: 492 rushing plays, 83 passing plays

It doesn’t get much closer than that.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the results from those passing plays were not exactly the same. The adjusted yards per pass attempt for those seasons:

  • 2016: 7.41
  • 2021: 2.98

That is not a typo. When sacks allowed are included in the passing numbers (as they should be), The Citadel averaged fewer than three yards per pass play last spring. 

The Bulldogs were sacked on 17.07% of their pass plays, by far the highest rate suffered by any offense in the SoCon (Mercer was second at 10.45%; Furman 3rd at 8.81%). Samford threw 226 more passes than The Citadel, but its quarterbacks were only sacked three more times.

The Citadel’s sack rate allowed was 16.55% when including its four games in the fall. Among all 97 FCS schools that played at least once in the fall and/or spring, that was the third-worst percentage overall, with Cal Poly and Kennesaw State the only other two teams with worse rates. Kennesaw State is also a triple option outfit, while Cal Poly was transitioning out of a triple option offense into a spread offense under new coach Beau Baldwin.

Triple option teams do tend to be on the wrong end of this statistic, for a bunch of obvious reasons. In the FBS, Navy had the worst sack rate allowed (15.65%), while Army was 10th-worst (10.59%). On the other hand, Air Force (3.17%) had one of the lowest rates in the country.

The average sack rate for FCS teams (F20/S21) was 6.77%. The average in the SoCon this spring was 7.39%, a figure reduced to 6.88% if The Citadel’s totals aren’t included.

One major reason for the Bulldogs’ high sack rate on offense was that a significant percentage of The Citadel’s pass plays occurred in the 4th quarter, with the Bulldogs trailing. In the final period, The Citadel was 10 for 27 through the air, with one interception and nine sacks allowed.

A team that doesn’t throw the football very often was largely ineffective in the passing game when the opponent knew a pass was probably coming. This is not a shock to informed observers. It is also not a shock to uniformed observers.

The real issue, it seems to me, is that such a large percentage of the Bulldogs’ aerial attack came on obvious passing downs, instead of on standard downs.

The Citadel attempted 32 pass plays on 1st down or 2nd-and-short. Those are generally not passing downs, and so the element of surprise would normally be quite beneficial for the Bulldogs.

All but seven of those pass plays, however, came while A) trailing in the 4th quarter — often by multiple scores — or B) down 10+ points in one of the other three quarters. There was nothing unexpected about most of those plays.

For the record, here are the seven pass plays for The Citadel on 1st down/2nd-and-short in true “standard down” situations:

  • Against Mercer, down 7-0 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at TC 45 (result: incomplete)
  • Against Western Carolina, down 7-6 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at WCU 39 (result: incomplete)
  • Against ETSU, tied 7-7 in the 1st quarter, first-and-10 pass at ETSU 49 (result: 44-yard gain to set up TD)
  • Against ETSU, down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, first-and-10 pass at TC 25 (result: 7-yard gain)
  • Against ETSU, down 21-14 in the 3rd quarter, first-and-15 pass at TC 31 (result: interception)
  • Against Furman, first play from scrimmage, first-and-10 pass at TC 25 (result: incompletion)
  • Against Furman, ahead 13-7 in the 2nd quarter, first-and-10 pass at Furman 40 (result: incompletion)

To be honest, the Bulldogs were not overly efficient on those occasions, either. Completing 2 of 7 passes for 51 yards (with a pick) is nothing to write home about. On a positive note, 7.29 yards per attempt isn’t half-bad, although it clearly needs to be a lot better for such plays.

The larger point is that The Citadel needs to be a bigger threat in the passing game, regardless of its status as a triple option offense. It needs to do so in order to keep defenses honest (which will also help the rushing attack), and to increase its number of explosive plays. 

I believe that the best way to do that, besides improvement in execution, is by throwing the ball more on standard downs. I don’t mean that the Bulldogs should be throwing 15 more passes per game or anything like that, though.

I think The Citadel should take advantage of its pugnaciousness on 4th down when calling plays on other downs, particularly first and second down. Basically, once the Bulldogs are past a certain point on the field (probably their own 30), the assumption should be that they are going to go for it on any 4th down play of 4 yards to go or less.

Instead of having three downs to make 10 yards, and almost always trying to grind out three runs to get there, a pass play on first down, or second-and-short (or medium), should be employed a little more often. If it doesn’t work, there are still three other downs available to move the chains. 

That should be the mindset.

Now, I freely admit that I am not a coach. I do not claim to have an advanced knowledge of the game (although I am a former championship football player¹). There are certainly a lot of things I don’t know about the program, especially related to personnel. I’m merely a dude with a computer; a less witty Statler.

It is just my unenlightened opinion that throwing the football on select first-and-second down plays a few more times per game (maybe once every other possession, or twice every three possessions) could open things up. The Citadel really needs more of those long gainers on offense, too; 22 plays of 20+ yards in eight contests is not enough.

Only three of those big plays came via the pass. Incidentally, all three of them came on first-and-10.

I’ve actually written about this concept before, but I believe that with the gradual increase in scoring in recent years, creating big plays is even more crucial to sustained offensive success. In the current game environment, a pure “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense has its limitations (and The Citadel is playing all 11 of its regular-season games this season on artificial turf, so there won’t be a lot of dust to kick up).

Having said all that, it must be duly noted that long, time-consuming drives should and will remain the Bulldogs’ bread-and-butter. As ESPN college football writer Bill Connelly has stated:

The key to explosiveness is efficiency. The key to making big plays is being able to stay on the field long enough to make one.

Negotiate the ball down the field. Pump it in there. Just keep matriculating the ball down the field. Yes, sir.

There are less than 50 days until the season starts. We’re getting closer.

 

¹City of Orangeburg (SC) Parks and Recreation Department — Pee Wee Division

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: 4th down decision-making

When it comes to gridiron discussion, one of my favorite topics is 4th down decision-making. This is an area of the game in which I think it is still possible to gain a competitive advantage, simply by being slightly ahead of the curve from a tactical perspective.

First, a quick list of the posts preceding this one so far in July:

As always, I begin with the statistical spreadsheet for The Citadel’s spring 2021 campaign:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

One of the tabs on that spreadsheet goes into 4th down decision-making at a somewhat granular level, both for The Citadel and its opponents; another lists the success rates for short yardage plays on 3rd and 4th downs.

Did the Bulldogs go for it on 4th down more often than other SoCon schools? You better believe it:

Team (offense)4th down conv4th down att4D%4D att/gm
The Citadel193259.4%4.00
Furman91850.0%2.57
VMI101566.7%2.14
Western Carolina41330.8%2.17
Samford61250.0%1.71
Chattanooga41136.4%2.75
Mercer51145.5%1.38
ETSU2922.2%1.50
Wofford6966.7%1.80
Total6513050.0%2.22

It should be pointed out that The Citadel also faced more 4th down situations than any other SoCon team. However, the difference on a per-game basis wasn’t enormous. The Bulldogs averaged exactly nine 4th down situations per contest, which led the league, but Samford (8.86) and Furman (8.71) weren’t far behind, and the two schools with the fewest per game, Chattanooga and Wofford, each averaged seven.

Now, The Citadel did have fewer possessions per contest than other teams, and that has to be taken into account. The Bulldogs averaged 10.88 possessions per game, and so on most drives were faced with at least one 4th down call to make. 

The Citadel was very aggressive in those situations, going for a first down 44.44% of the time, the highest percentage in the conference, and considerably higher than every other squad except Chattanooga. Here is a table illustrating that:

Team (offense)4th down attPunts4D FGA4D total plays4D go rate
The Citadel323467244.44%
Chattanooga111252839.29%
Furman183766129.51%
VMI1526115228.85%
Wofford92063525.71%
Western Carolina133445125.49%
ETSU92894619.57%
Samford1233176219.35%
Mercer114676417.19%
Total1302707147127.60%

Incidentally, “4D FGA” refers to the number of field goal attempts on fourth down. Most field goal attempts take place on 4th down, of course, but not all do (end-of-half clock situations, for example). Thus, field goal attempts that took place on other downs (which happened six times in league play) are not listed on the chart. 

As expected, I did not find any punts in league games that occurred on a down other than 4th. Those halcyon days of yore, when “quick kicks” were a regular feature of the game, are gone forever.

It can occasionally be disorienting to read complete play-by-play newspaper stories from contests played decades ago, when teams frequently punted on 3rd down. They were not averse to punting on first and/or second down, either.

Indeed, The Citadel’s 12-7 Homecoming victory over Clemson in 1928, one of the more famous upsets in school history, included several first down punts by both teams. The Citadel’s second touchdown was scored directly off a botched punt snap by Clemson on first down. The Bulldogs’ first score was set up by a blocked punt that came on third down.

The Citadel blocked a third down punt for a TD in its 19-7 victory over South Carolina in 1950 as well, so maybe that strategy should make a comeback after all, at least among certain power conference teams…

I noted in a couple of previous posts that trying to compare FCS statistics for F20/S21 is largely pointless, and also a difficult task at any rate. However, while I can’t determine 4th-down situational stats for every team in the subdivision that played, a perusal of readily available information allows me to say with a reasonable amount of confidence that The Citadel’s “go rate” would have ranked third overall in FCS for the spring campaign.

The two teams ahead of the Bulldogs in this respect were Davidson (54.17%) and Eastern Illinois (47.69%). EIU, which like The Citadel is located in a town called Charleston, is a program with at least a short history of going for it a lot on 4th down; the Panthers led the nation in 4th down tries in 2019, going 28 for 52.

Alas, in spring 2021 they were not nearly as successful, only converting 10 of 31 4th down attempts en route to a record of 1-5.

Davidson finished the spring season 4-3, but that included an FCS playoff appearance, as the Wildcats won the automatic bid out of the non-scholarship Pioneer League. Davidson was 15 for 26 on 4th down attempts, to go along with six 4th down field goal tries and just 16 punts — the only team in all of D-1 to have attempted more 4th down conversions that punts/FGA combined.

I also ran the numbers for FBS, with one caveat. I could not find a way to remove field goal attempts that were not 4th-down plays from the list, and I was not about to go through 551 game summaries. Sorry, but I do have my limits.

Therefore, the FBS numbers that follow are possibly off by a percentage point — probably no more than that, though (and in most cases less), and for some teams they will be completely accurate. Any change would be a slight increase in the go rate.

Last year’s leading riverboat gambler in the bowl subdivision, to the surprise of no one, was Lane Kiffin, with Mississippi going for it 33 times (with only a combined 37 punts/FGA). That adds up to a go rate of 47.14%, easily tops in FBS.

Kiffin is a naturally aggressive tactician and play caller; the fact that the Rebels were truly terrible on defense also factored into the equation. Expect more of the same this season, as Kiffin is still Kiffin and Mississippi’s D might not be much better.

Army was second (39.08%), which is not exactly a shock. Jeff Monken is now well known for his willingness to go for it on 4th down.

Some of the other teams near the top of the list suffered through tough seasons, which might have impacted their number of attempts. However, there were also very successful squads with high go rates — including BYU, Kent State (albeit in just four games), Buffalo, and Liberty.

At the other end of the spectrum was Maryland (127th and last), which in five games only attempted one 4th-down conversion (leading to a more-no-than-go rate of 2.78%). The Terrapins did make that conversion try, though, and thus finished with a 100% success rate on 4th down.

Some coaches leaned heavily on excellent field goal kickers, and that clearly affected their 4th down decision-making. Oklahoma had a go rate of just 12.99% (6th-lowest in FBS), in part because the Sooners attempted 28 field goals in 11 games (making 22 of them). Only Pittsburgh attempted more field goals per game.

Then there were a few teams that didn’t go for it too often on 4th down because there was basically no need to do so; teams in the bottom 25% of the category included Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama.

Here is a list of select FBS teams and their 4th down “go rate”:

  • BYU, 34.92% (6th nationally)
  • Kent State, 34.78% (7th)
  • UCLA, 34.69% (8th)
  • Buffalo, 34.21% (10th)
  • Liberty, 32.35% (14th)
  • Navy, 32.26% (15th)
  • Northwestern, 31.33% (22nd)
  • Air Force, 30.56% (29th)
  • South Carolina, 28.40% (34th)
  • Coastal Carolina, 26.15% (48th)
  • North Carolina, 26.03% (49th)
  • East Carolina, 22.22% (72nd)
  • Kentucky, 20.24% (85th)
  • Georgia Southern, 17.89% (97th)
  • North Carolina State, 14.29% (113th)

Along these lines, I also took a quick look at punts per game. Kansas led the nation with 7.67 punts per contest, which sums up the Jayhawks’ football fortunes as well as just about anything. Massachusetts was second, as natural an outcome as could be imagined.

The teams with the fewest punts per game: Kent State (only 2.25 per contest), BYU, Liberty, Florida, and Alabama. Yep.

I’m very appreciative of Brent Thompson’s aggressiveness when it comes to going for it on 4th down, particularly in short-yardage situations. The Bulldogs faced 22 plays of 4th down and 3 yards or less in spring 2021, and went for it 21 times. 

There were actually three other short-yardage plays on 4th down that aren’t included among those 22, because of subsequent penalties; Thompson either went for it on those plays or would have, if given the chance. That means his intended go rate on 4th-and-short was 96%. That is the way it should be, especially given the core tenets of the offense.

I know there are a few fans who believe The Citadel was a little too aggressive on 4th down. I respectfully but firmly disagree, however. In order to be successful, the Bulldogs have to maximize their opportunities. One of the best ways to do that is use all the downs which are available. 

I do think that The Citadel could be even more productive when it comes to taking advantage of the program’s 4th down mindset, though. That will be the subject of my next post.

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: Big Plays

That’s right, talkin’ Big Plays today. We’re living large and we’re in charge.

For anyone just arriving to this website (welcome!), here is a quick list of the posts that have preceded this one over the past couple of weeks:

I suppose I should explain what a Big Play is for the purposes of this post. While there are a lot of different statistical methods to group long-gaining plays from scrimmage, I’m defining them here as I have for several years now: any scrimmage play, running or passing, that gains 20 yards or more. Note that this does not include defensive/special teams returns.

Also, even if there is a turnover at the end of the play in question, if the net gain (prior to the possession change) is at least 20 yards, that still counts. You could make a decent argument that it shouldn’t, but I’ve elected to include such plays in the totals for the sake of consistency. (For the record, I only found two such events in the entirety of the SoCon spring slate.)

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

The Bulldogs had a negative overall margin as far as big plays are concerned (22 for, 40 against). That was the largest per-game deficiency in the league (-2.25 per contest). 

Here is the breakdown of offensive big plays in conference action (spring games only):

  • Samford: 48 (7 games)
  • Mercer: 39 (8 games)
  • VMI: 33 (7 games)
  • Furman: 30 (7 games)
  • Chattanooga: 24 (4 games)
  • The Citadel: 22 (8 games)
  • East Tennessee State: 21 (6 games)
  • Wofford: 19 (5 games)
  • Western Carolina: 19 (6 games)

Samford had the most plays from scrimmage of 20+ yards, while Chattanooga averaged six big plays per game, which was the second-best rate in the conference. The Citadel’s rate of 2.75 big plays per contest ranked last.

How do those numbers compare nationally? Well, as I mentioned in my previous post, trying to compare FCS stats for F20/S21 is largely a waste of time, for a host of obvious reasons, and even if you wanted to do so, compiling all of those statistics would be very difficult, if not impossible. (I can attest that assembling these types of stats for just the SoCon teams isn’t easy.)

On the other hand, FBS statistics are more manageable when it comes to organizing such numbers. Here is a sampling from that subdivision, in which 127 teams participated in 2020. On a per-game basis, the top 5 in big plays (20+ yards or more) were UCF (8.30 per contest), Ohio State, North Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi.

No one reading this who follows college football is shocked at all by that list. Other teams that fared well in this area included BYU, Clemson, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

The bottom five: Massachusetts (last in FBS at 2.0 per game, with the Minutemen only playing four contests in all), Western Kentucky, FIU, Kansas, and Syracuse. Again, nobody is surprised.

Incidentally, The Citadel’s 2.75 big plays per game exactly matched the average for Army, which had 33 in 12 games. The Black Knights ranked 121st overall in FBS.

Another, arguably more substantive way to look at this is on a per-play basis, rather than per-game. In terms of big plays per offensive snap (lower is better, of course):

  • Chattanooga: 10.50 snaps per big play
  • Samford: 11.40
  • Mercer: 14.13
  • Furman: 16.30
  • VMI: 16.55
  • Wofford: 17.05
  • Western Carolina: 17.53
  • East Tennessee State: 18.71
  • The Citadel: 26.09

Let’s compare those numbers to FBS programs.

The list of top schools is similar to that of the per-game grouping. This time, Ohio State led all squads, with a rate of just 9.50 snaps per big play. BYU was second (9.63).

A somewhat surprising team in this category is Maryland, which finished fifth (10.00). The Terrapins only played five games, but there is no doubt that when Mike Locksley’s offense is rolling, it can produce a lot of long gainers.

The bottom five on a per-play basis matched the bottom five on a per-game rate, except that Wisconsin (!) replaced Syracuse, with the Badgers only recording a 20+ yard play every 26.05 snaps from scrimmage. That was still better than Western Kentucky, which finished last (29.15).

The Hilltoppers decided to do something about it, though. WKU brought in Houston Baptist’s starting quarterback as a transfer, along with his top three receiving targets.

Houston Baptist was one of the FCS teams that played a few games in the fall, but did not compete in the spring. HBU faced three FBS squads, and while losing all three of those games, the Huskies put up 31, 33, and 38 points. In one of those games, against Texas Tech, star quarterback Bailey Zappe had 560 yards of total offense.

Now, Zappe and several of his friends are taking their talents to Bowling Green, Kentucky. It’s a brave new world.

One of the things that I wondered about as I looked over these numbers: does the triple option offense tend to inhibit big play production? By and large, the FBS triple option teams did not fare well in this category. I’ve included them in this list of “other teams of interest” in the big plays per-snap statistic, along with all teams facing SoCon opposition this fall, plus a random team or two:

  • Florida: 9.66 big plays per snap (3rd in FBS)
  • North Carolina: 9.76 (4th)
  • Alabama: 10.37 (8th)
  • Oklahoma: 10.85 (12th)
  • Clemson: 11.12 (14th)
  • North Carolina State: 11.75 (19th)
  • Coastal Carolina: 12.58 (29th)
  • Kent State: 13.04 (36th)
  • South Carolina: 15.09 (64th)
  • Georgia Southern: 15.96 (73rd)
  • East Carolina: 16.38 (79th)
  • Navy: 17.34 (93rd)
  • Air Force: 17.76 (98th)
  • Kentucky: 17.87 (100th)
  • Vanderbilt: 23.22 (120th)
  • Army: 25.50 (122nd)

Of course, one reason why triple option teams don’t have as many longer plays from scrimmage is because they are primarily (and sometimes almost exclusively) running teams, and the majority of 20+ yard plays are via the air — for example, last season in FBS, 68.2% of such plays were passes.

That percentage was almost reversed in the triple option universe. Last year, Georgia Southern, Navy, Army, and Air Force combined for 140 plays of 20+ yards, with 61.4% of them coming on the ground. There was room for outliers — Navy had almost as many big passing plays (17) as it did rushing (18) — but when you run the ball 83.1% of the time (the combined percentage for the four-team tandem), that is the end result.

What it means, though, is that those triple option teams still had a higher percentage of pass attempts result in big plays than their rushes. This wasn’t true for The Citadel, which actually had fewer snaps per rushing big plays (25.89) than pass plays (27.33). Intuitively, that needs to change this fall for the Bulldogs’ offense to be more successful.

You might have noticed that I referenced both rushing and passing big plays in those last few paragraphs. I did break down big plays in SoCon action by run and pass; while I’m not going to list them out separately in this post, they can be found on this handy-dandy spreadsheet:

Big Plays, SoCon spring 2021

Not only does it list big plays by run and pass, it is color-coded! And not completely impossible to understand!

Okay, now to talk about defending big plays.

Big plays allowed in SoCon action, spring 2021:

  • Chattanooga: 7 (4 games)
  • East Tennessee State: 17 (6 games)
  • Western Carolina: 23 (6 games)
  • Wofford: 28 (5 games)
  • VMI: 29 (7 games)
  • Furman: 31 (7 games)
  • The Citadel: 40 (8 games)
  • Mercer: 40 (8 games)
  • Samford: 40 (7 games)

Chattanooga was by some distance the best league team at preventing big plays, albeit in a smaller sample size. Samford allowed 5.71 per game, the most on average, with Wofford just behind at 5.60 per contest.

Air Force allowed the fewest big plays in FBS on a per-game basis, at 1.67 (the Falcons played six contests in 2020). Marshall, Iowa, Louisiana-Lafayette, and BYU rounded out the top five; influential backers of the Thundering Herd were so impressed that head coach Doc Holliday was fired.

The worst team in FBS in this category was LSU, which gave up 79 such plays in 10 games (7.90 average). Did the Tigers do any better when considering big plays allowed on a per-play basis? Uh, no. LSU was last by that metric as well, as it allowed a big play every 8.58 snaps.

In term of pass defense specifically, the Tigers allowed the most plays of 20 yards or more…and the most of 30 yards or more…and the most of 40 yards or more…and the most of 50 yards or more. LSU was also one of seven FBS schools to give up a pass play of more than 90 yards.

Former defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s three-year contract was guaranteed, and he had two years remaining on his deal at $2.3 million per annum when he was fired last December. LSU had to pony up $4 million in severance pay by January 31, 2021. What a country.

Here is that list of FBS teams from earlier, this time ranked on defending big plays on a per-snap basis (to avoid confusion, just remember that for defenses, a larger number is better when it comes to this statistic):

  • Air Force: 36.00 snaps per big play allowed (1st in FBS)
  • Coastal Carolina: 18.33 (20th)
  • Alabama: 17.48 (26th)
  • Kentucky: 17.36 (28th)
  • Clemson: 16.98 (34th)
  • Florida: 15.98 (50th)
  • Navy: 15.71 (56th)
  • North Carolina: 15.64 (58th)
  • North Carolina State: 15.15 (62nd)
  • Army: 15.02 (66th)
  • Georgia Southern: 14.79 (68th)
  • Oklahoma: 14.57 (70th)
  • South Carolina: 12.74 (95th)
  • East Carolina: 12.71 (96th)
  • Kent State: 12.43 (104th)
  • Vanderbilt: 10.22 (123rd)

The spring 2021 SoCon list of big plays allowed, per snap:

  • Chattanooga, 36.14
  • East Tennessee State, 23.59
  • Western Carolina, 22.00
  • VMI, 16.93
  • Samford, 14.30
  • Furman, 14.19
  • Mercer, 13.83
  • Wofford, 11.68
  • The Citadel, 11.65

Clearly, the Bulldogs have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to both producing and preventing big plays. I went back and looked at the numbers for the 2016 season, just to compare:

  • 2016 offense — 26 big plays (15 runs, 11 passes), 22.19 snaps per big play
  • 2016 defense — 28 big plays allowed (9 runs, 19 passes), 16.46 snaps per big play

I think it is interesting that the 2016 championship team did not actually have an exceptionally large number of offensive big plays. It must be pointed out, though, that its big plays were often BIG.

Eight of the 26 long gainers in 2016 were over 50 yards in length, including three that were 70+. In contrast, the Bulldogs had just two plays from scrimmage this spring that went for 50 yards or more.

Defensively, 16 snaps per big play allowed would seem like a respectable target to try to reach for the Bulldogs this fall. That would be about 1½ fewer such plays per game. In the spring, The Citadel had all kinds of defensive problems on the opening possession; eliminating most of those issues would be a very good start (pun intended).

More statistical reviews and thoughts to come, as the season creeps even closer…

Looking at the numbers, 2021 preseason: Havoc Rate

This is the first in an occasional preseason series (at least, I hope it is occasional) in which I take a closer look at a few of The Citadel’s spring football 2021 statistics.

What improvements can the Bulldogs make? What are their most significant deficiencies from a statistical perspective? What are their strengths? How do they compare to other SoCon teams in various categories?

I’ll also highlight various FBS teams as points of comparison, in part because for some of these statistics, FCS numbers are very hard to come by. Besides, let’s face it — the F20/S21 season for FCS on a national level was a slow-motion trainwreck anyway.

In a previous post, I introduced the spreadsheet from which I’ll be working. Here it is again:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

What is havoc rate? Well, it is a statistic that was essentially created by Bill Connelly (now of ESPN) in 2015. In recent years, it has gained a lot of credence, particularly in the coaching community, as this 2019 article about Georgia football suggests:

On the first day of spring practice, Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he wanted to improve the team’s havoc rate. The term has been tossed around for months now by players and coaches in Athens…

Havoc rate comes from the total number of tackles for loss, passes defensed (interceptions and breakups) and forced fumbles divided by the total number of plays.

“We feel that we should have 20 percent of the plays, two of every 10 should be a ball disruption, a turnover, a PBU, a tackle for a loss, so we’re charting that,” Smart said this spring…

…Smart said Georgia studied the top 10 teams in havoc rate….“We’re trying to do some of the things they do and we’re trying to put guys in position to do that,” Smart said…

…Safety J.R. Reed said the first of two preseason scrimmages produced the most forced turnovers in the last two years.

That came after a spring in which a player a day was asked to stand up and give a definition of havoc in the defensive team meeting room.

“Everybody in that room, from the highest SAT/ACT to the lowest has got to stand up and give us what havoc rate is,” Smart said. “If they understand what it is, they know we’re trying to cause it.”

Basically, this stat is about how often a defense creates disruptive and/or negative plays. The national average for havoc rate tends to be around 16%, while the top teams in the category will exceed 20%.

In eight league games this spring, The Citadel had a defensive havoc rate of 14.38%. How did that compare in the SoCon? I’m glad you asked. Here is each conference team’s rate (league games only):

  • East Tennessee State: 17.21%
  • Chattanooga: 16.60%
  • Furman: 15.91%
  • VMI: 15.89%
  • Mercer: 15.01%
  • Samford: 14.86%
  • The Citadel: 14.38%
  • Wofford: 11.93%
  • Western Carolina: 8.89%

Keep in mind the disparity in games played this spring. Chattanooga only played four contests, while Wofford suited up for five. Western Carolina and ETSU played six; Furman, VMI, and Samford played seven; and The Citadel and Mercer each completed the full slate of conference matchups, with eight.

UTC’s defensive havoc rate would have been 19.67% if you took out the results from its game versus Mercer, when the Mocs fielded what amounted to a “B” team. On the other hand, that number would have been for just three games anyway; we’re talking about a lot of statistical variance in this instance.

Last season, Pittsburgh led all FBS teams in defensive havoc rate at 22.75%, just ahead of Clemson. Other squads with rates greater than 20%: Utah, San Diego State, Notre Dame, and TCU. Colorado and Oklahoma just missed hitting that mark.

One thing I’ll try to do in this series is list (when applicable) the category statistics for other teams of interest in FBS, with a particular focus on those which will be facing SoCon opposition this fall. Each league team will play one FBS foe in 2021.

I’ve already mentioned Oklahoma, the FBS opponent for Western Carolina this year (good luck, Kerwin Bell). The Sooners had a defensive havoc rate of 19.78%, which was 8th-best in FBS. Others of note:

  • Army, 18.76%, 19th nationally (9-3 last season, with two wins over SoCon squads)
  • Alabama, 18.59%, 20th (SoCon opponent in 2021: Mercer)
  • North Carolina State, 17.71%, 32nd (SoCon opponent in 2021: Furman)
  • Coastal Carolina, 17.53%, 36th (SoCon opponent in 2021: The Citadel)
  • Kent State, 17.24%, 43rd (SoCon opponent in 2021: VMI)
  • Florida, 15.58%, 71st (SoCon opponent in 2021: Samford)
  • North Carolina, 15.08%, 79th (SoCon opponent in 2021: Wofford)
  • Kentucky, 13.35%, 102nd (SoCon opponent in 2021: Chattanooga)
  • Navy, 12.89%, 108th (3-7 last season)
  • Vanderbilt, 11.44%, 118th (SoCon opponent in 2021: ETSU)
  • South Carolina, 10.90%, 125th (2-8 last season)
  • Air Force, 9.44%, 126th (3-3 last season)
  • Akron, 7.95%, 127th and last (1-5 last season)

From The Citadel’s perspective, I think a reasonable goal in 2021 would be to increase its defensive havoc rate to at least 16%. That might not sound like a major step forward from 14.38%, but if the Bulldogs were to have a DHR of 16%, it would be an increase of almost exactly one more disruptive/negative play per game.

That one play — a forced fumble, a big tackle for loss, an interception — could well be the difference between a win or a loss. After all, just think about how many close games The Citadel has played in the conference in recent years.

One specific area of potential improvement for The Citadel in this regard could be sack rate. The Bulldogs had a defensive sack rate of 4.17%, which if applied to FBS statistics would have ranked in the bottom 15% nationally (with the same percentage as that of Michigan).

It is also possible to calculate Havoc Rate Against (as I call it), or how disrupted offenses are by negative plays. I don’t have FBS numbers for this (finding forced fumble and TFL stats for offenses can be difficult), but I did put together a chart for SoCon spring play, similar to the one for the defenses. Here is the HRA breakdown for league games in 2021 (remember, the lower the percentage in this category, the better):

  • VMI: 11.17%
  • The Citadel: 11.67%
  • Chattanooga: 14.29%
  • Western Carolina: 14.71%
  • Wofford: 15.12%
  • Samford 15.54%
  • Mercer: 15.79%
  • ETSU: 16.28%
  • Furman: 16.36%

While the Bulldogs are second in this grouping, I tend to believe that 11.67% is not necessarily an outstanding outcome, given the nature of the triple option attack.

For example, a tackle for loss should be an unusual outcome for a play in The Citadel’s offense. However, the Bulldogs suffered a larger-than-expected number of tackles for loss in spring 2021, almost entirely due to an abysmal sack percentage against (17.07%).

This can be attributed in large part to the fact that most of The Citadel’s pass plays occurred when the Bulldogs were trailing (64.3% of the sacks came in the 4th quarter).

Another team that had issues with negative plays on offense was Furman. If not for a completely dominant performance in its opener versus Western Carolina, FU’s havoc rate against would have been even higher; if you take out the Paladins’ numbers against WCU, their HRA jumps to 18.84%.

Of course, that game still counted. Removing it from the remaining six games Furman played tends to unfairly skew things in the opposite direction.

Conversely, 11.17% is surely a very impressive result for VMI’s pass-happy offense. 

Incidentally, the league average for havoc rate (which obviously applies both defensively and offensively) was 14.42%. The median was slightly above 15% on both sides of the ball.

In my next post, I’ll discuss another statistical category, one that can dovetail with havoc rate.

Sometimes they are referred to as long gainers, but here at The Sports Arsenal, we call them BIG PLAYS.

You’ve been warned…

Football attendance at The Citadel: the annual review (for 2020, spring 2021…whatever, both)

Obviously, this is not going to be a “traditional” attendance post, given what last year (and earlier this year) was like. However, for the sake of completeness, we march on.

The updated spreadsheet:

Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2020

One of the things that crossed my mind reviewing the attendance figures for F20/S21: was there a typo involved?

The listed attendance for the game versus ETSU was 2642, a little less than the other games. There was probably a reason for not having the maximum attendance allowed; at any rate, not a big deal. The other four games, though, had attendance as follows:

  • Eastern Kentucky: 3081
  • Chattanooga: 3108
  • Samford: 3081
  • Furman: 3081

One of those is not like the others…

The Citadel’s average attendance of 2,999 was “good” enough for a 23rd-place finish among all FCS programs that competed in F20/S21 (per the NCAA). Among SoCon schools, the Bulldogs were second overall.

1 – Mercer (3,234) – 5 home games
2 – The Citadel (2,999) – 5 home games
3 – East Tennessee State (2,240) – 3 home games
4 – Furman (2,066) – 3 home games
5 – Chattanooga (1,572) – 2 home games
6 – VMI (1,417) – 3 home games
7 – Samford (1,203) – 3 home games
8 – Western Carolina (1,128) – 2 home games
9 – Wofford (1,115) – 3 home games

One word of caution about those numbers: I know this will come as a shock, but the NCAA is not infallible.

For example, Charleston Southern is credited with an average home attendance of 750, based on one game (the Buccaneers actually played two home contests this spring, drawing an announced 750 fans for one of them and 1,000 for the other). The NCAA’s statistics site also lists Buccaneer Field as having a capacity of 500. Hmm.

The NCAA also catalogued Bryant as having an average attendance of 47, which was such a bizarre figure I went back and looked at Bryant’s boxscores. In fact, Rhode Island’s Bulldogs averaged 238 fans per home game (two contests). Admittedly, the March 28 home finale against Duquesne was played before only 75 hardy supporters, but that matchup occurred during a heavy rain — and the Dukes probably weren’t a big draw anyway.

Comparing the F20/S21 numbers to previous years is pointless, so I’ll just copy/paste the nine-year “first two games” section from prior seasons, to set up the next section:

  • 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)

Based on recent history, and the general population gradually moving into the “new normal” of the post-pandemic era, what would we expect attendance to be like at Johnson Hagood Stadium this fall?

No home game times have been set as yet. There will be six contests at JHS:

  • September 11: Charleston Southern (Military Appreciation Day)
  • September 18: North Greenville
  • October 2: VMI (Parents’ Weekend)
  • October 23: Western Carolina
  • October 30: Mercer (Hall of Fame Weekend)
  • November 13: Wofford (Homecoming)

The original schedule had just five games, but The Citadel’s trip to Orangeburg to play South Carolina State was pushed back to a future year, as Buddy Pough’s Bulldogs got a “money game” at New Mexico State this fall that understandably took priority. That ultimately led to a sixth home game, with North Greenville as the new opponent for The Citadel.

While the home opener is listed as Military Appreciation Day, arguably a more important point in terms of potential attendance is that September 10-12 is the “replacement weekend” for the classes that were unable to hold their Homecoming reunions last year. A lot of people could be in town for that game.

I’m very curious to see what college football game attendance will be like throughout the country this season. I suspect that, at least initially, there will be big crowds at the P5 level (Clemson, South Carolina, etc.). Fans will be excited to go to sporting events for the first time in well over a year.

However, one other thing that happened during the pandemic: a lot of folks watched their teams play all their games on TV. I’m guessing many of them really enjoyed that experience. It could be that after the first game or two of this season, there will be people who decide staying at home is considerably more convenient, and that actually attending the games is not worth the expense (and the time commitment).

I don’t think that mindset will have a significant effect on schools like The Citadel. It is more likely to have an impact on programs trying to sell tickets to fans in the upper decks of large stadiums.

It is a potential trend worth watching, however.

I’m ready to return to Johnson Hagood Stadium. I’m sure many other fans are as well.

Getting closer…

The Citadel’s 2021 spring football season: a statistical review

Well, it is July, which is the last full month without any college football this year. That means gridiron activity is right around the corner.

After the last year and a half, a semi-normal fall college football season will be a wonder to behold. Of course, COVID-19 is still out there and remains an issue. The arrival of what I’ll call “NIL Fever” is also likely to be something worth watching in terms of producing unforeseen developments across the NCAA landscape.

As for this blog, there will be adjustments. After about a decade of weekly game previews, I’ve decided to change things up a bit. Part of the reason for that is due to time constraints. However, I also felt like things were starting to get a little stale in terms of what I wrote and how I wrote it.

I’ll probably be making shorter posts throughout the college football season. There won’t be a weekly game preview per se. I might also post about the college sports scene as a whole from time to time. It will be a variety pack of a blog, perhaps with more total posts than before, just not as individually lengthy. At least, that is my hope.

Also, WordPress threw me a curveball and I am now stuck with editing software that I do not like. There is still a chance I switch to another media format in the near future.

The main purpose of this specific post is to introduce a spreadsheet that incorporates statistics from the 2021 spring football season. You can access the spreadsheet at this link:

The Citadel, 2021 Spring Football

Almost anything anyone ever wanted to know from a statistical perspective about the Bulldogs’ 2021 spring gridiron campaign is included in that spreadsheet. Also included are many, many things no one ever wanted to know…

There are seven tabs. A quick overview of each:

General Info: This is exactly what it sounds like. It includes (for each of The Citadel’s SoCon contests) time of game, officiating assignments, attendance, and weather at kickoff. It also has the ever-fascinating coin toss data.

VMI did not include the weather conditions in its game summary, thus the “not recorded” entries for that game in those categories. I considered just listing the weather as “miserable”, based on historical precedent, but decided to let it go.

Readers will notice the Bulldogs were very good at winning the coin toss. The Citadel did not always defer, which is my preferred maneuver when it comes to the choice, but some thought does appear to have been put into the decision on a game-by-game basis. I’m good with that.

Run-Pass by down: The Citadel’s run-pass breakdown for the league games is listed by down and distance (there is an explanation of the categories at the bottom of the sheet). I’ve also listed the breakdown for the opponents, to show what the Bulldogs’ defense faced.

In a column on the far right, there is an average for each category based on run percentage — for example, on 3rd-and-long the Bulldogs ran 70.15% of the time, while their opponents rushed the football on 28.07% of 3rd-and-long plays.

I plan on making a post in a couple of weeks that will discuss some aspects of The Citadel’s run-pass ratio in further detail; it will be more along the lines of game theory/philosophy.

Offensive statistics: I would like to think that every significant and semi-significant category has been included. A few notes:

  • I consider sacks (and sack yardage) to be part of a team’s passing statistics, and calculate rushing/passing numbers accordingly. That is why you will see categories like “adjusted rush yards” and “adjusted yards/pass attempt”. The numbers are not the same as what appears in the official game summaries, but I believe them to be a more accurate reflection of how the games were played. This also means that pass plays include both actual attempts and sacks.
  • I also have some less-than-standard categories on the sheet, including average yards gained on first down and yards to go on 3rd down. I think those are important numbers when evaluating a team’s success moving the football.
  • This year I have added a special group of categories related to 4th quarter passing. I wanted to examine the difference for The Citadel’s offense in passing when in “desperation” mode, versus passing on regular (non-passing) downs earlier in the game.

Defensive statistics: These are the same exact categories as are listed for offense. I’ll mention here that some of those categories include trendy stats like “havoc rate” and “fumble luck”.

There are also categories for big plays allowed (my definition of a “big play” is 20+ yards, running or passing) and QB hurries (although I think that particular statistic is unevenly applied throughout the conference).

Red Zone numbers, 3rd- and 4th-down conversion rates, passes defensed — it is all there.

Fourth-down decisions: Ah, one of my personal favorite talking points. All fourth-down decisions in the eight games are listed, both for The Citadel and its opponents.

This tab includes some (really lame) color coding, and an alphabetical system that will probably annoy a few people. In my defense, I have never figured out a cleaner method for denoting a fourth-down decision.

Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page to get an explanation for both the zones and the A-B-C-etc. descriptions. This year, I’ve recorded the decisions by quarter as well as by zone.

Short-yardage conversion rate: This is something I haven’t catalogued before. I’ve broken down the numbers for The Citadel (and its opponents) for 3rd- and 4th-down plays of four yards or less. I have also noted the times on 4th down when the Bulldogs or their opponents did not go for it in a short-yardage situation.

Yes, your initial reading was correct: Brent Thompson went for it on 4th-and-1 every single time last spring. He went for it on 4th-and-2 every single time last spring. On 4th-and-3, he went for it every time but once.

One reason that is notable is because The Citadel had a lot of 4th-and-short plays last season. Regardless of where the Bulldogs were on the field, though, they were going for it.

Miscellaneous: This is basically a bunch of other stats that aren’t necessarily offense/defense specific. Time of possession, points per quarter, penalty yardage, net punting/kickoffs, things like that.

Some other statistics mentioned in this tab: average starting field position, three-and-out rate, scoring rate, and seconds per offensive play.

A quick observation: when putting together the spreadsheet, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall accuracy of the game summaries for the 2021 spring season. I was afraid there might be a lot of input errors given how stressed the staffs for each school must have been at the time, but those mistakes turned out to be minimal. I joked earlier about VMI not including weather information, but that was definitely an exception to the rule.

Sure, there were blips. A punt entered as a kickoff here, an absence of tackle-for-loss yardage data there. Still, nothing major, and all fixable. Credit must be given to the athletic media relations folks throughout the Southern Conference.

I tried to make the spreadsheet easily understandable, but I realize some of the categories are not intuitive. If anyone has any questions (or corrections!), feel free to ask me here or on Twitter @SandlapperSpike. I am probably more likely to see questions/feedback faster on Twitter, to be honest. Comments are welcome as well.

We’re getting closer to football season. Just not close enough.

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!