Game Review, 2018: Mercer

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package (mostly on the Rod Johnson kickoff return), The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– School release from The Citadel

School release from Mercer

– “Notes” section on the game from The Macon Telegraph

Facebook video postgame report by writers from Mercer’s student newspaper (I think in association with The Macon Telegraph)

Video from WCBD-TV

– Video from WCSC-TV (via Twitter)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

After the game was over, because I am a mondo sports nerd, I tweeted this semi-serious (but true!) factoid:

If you don’t mind indulging me, I wanted to expand on this, mainly by quoting The News and Courier‘s game commentary from October 3, 1926.

To set this up…

The Citadel traveled to Mercer for a game played on October 2, 1926. It was a hot afternoon (much like it was in Macon yesterday), and about 3,000 spectators were in attendance.

The Bears were a solid favorite. Mercer’s team included Wally Butts and the highly regarded Joseph “Phoney” Smith, who was one of the great halfbacks of his day. (Incidentally, if you think “Phoney” is an interesting nickname, Smith’s brother Byron was known as “Crook”.)

Wally Butts, of course, is best known for his long stint as the head football coach at Georgia (and for an infamous scandal involving Paul “Bear” Bryant).

Despite being at a perceived disadvantage, the Bulldogs were in control for much of the contest and led 6-0 before a Mercer score gave the home team a 7-6 lead. Then, with less than three minutes remaining, the Bears drove down to The Citadel’s 11-yard line, and attempted to punch in a decisive TD. However, Dick “Moonie” Brown and Eddie Doyle had other ideas:

Then came the most dramatic moment of the afternoon. The ball was snapped, Skelton [the Mercer quarterback] darted to the line of scrimmage, passed [by] it a few yards and seemed to rise up in the air and then shoot back towards his own goal, following a sickening impact of human bodies, as Moonie Brown’s head was buried in the runner’s stomach.

The ball rolled to one side. Immediately it was surrounded by blue jerseys. Eddie Doyle, who had only a few moments before replaced the brilliant but tired Oscar Reeder, scooped it up and began the long journey.

In the World War destroyers guarded huge ships crossing the Atlantic. This afternoon the dreadnaughts of The Citadel team conveyed the little destroyer of Macon’s hopes safely down the ninety yards.

Not a [single] Mercer man got within twenty yards near the squadron and to have gotten to Doyle, they would have had to kill several Citadel men.

Mercer’s game program included illustrations of several players, but only one Bulldog: Eddie Doyle.

The writer of the game story excerpted above was The News and Courier‘s sports editor, C.D. Weimer. In the spring of 1927, Weimer left Charleston to take an editorial position with another newspaper.

Before he left, though, Weimer was the guest of honor at a supper held at The Citadel which was attended by the entire Corps of Cadets. He was presented with a watch chain and a small gold football as a token of the Corps’ esteem for him.

Those were the days…

Speaking of the Corps of Cadets, they also celebrated victories a little differently back then than they do today. As described by The News and Courier at the time:

Big Saturday night crowds and heavy early-evening traffic were blocked for ten minutes at the corner of King and Wentworth streets last night when more than 400 Citadel cadets halted there for a hilarious celebration of the Blue and White’s victory over Mercer at Macon yesterday afternoon.

The cadets, led by Butler Doolittle, of Atlanta, of the Class of ’17, and former cheerleader at the military college, had marched the full three miles from the barracks at Hampton Park, cheering and singing all the way. Many had pulled out their shirt-tails. Those who wore khaki-colored shirts pulled out the tails and tied handkerchiefs on the end to gain the effect of a trailing white shirt-tail.

Swinging down Rutledge Avenue after leaving The Citadel, the cadets turned at Calhoun and then turned into King. They all but filled the narrow and busy thoroughfare as they swooped down toward Wentworth. Hundreds of shoppers stopped and gazed; not a few followed.

At Wentworth the perspiring, happy and now hoarse youths hoisted a cheerleader to shoulders and this busy corner heard yells seldom heard except at Hampton Park.

As the cadets ruled the corner impatient motorists pressed their horn buttons, but in the din they were hardly heard.

Okay, enough about the roaring ’20s. Let’s look at some stats from Saturday’s game:

Category The Citadel Mercer
Field Position -5.5 +5.5
Success Rate 47.8% 43.1%
Explosiveness 1.17 1.26
Finishing drives 4.8 (5) 5.2 (6)
Turnovers 0 1
Possessions 9 10
Offensive Plays 69 65
Yards/rush 5.2 3.5
Yards/pass attempt 16.7 7.1
Yards/play 6.9 5.8
3rd down conversions 6/14 6/12
4th down conversions 4/5 1/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 75.0 (3/4)
Net punting 31.0 48.7
Time of possession 32:36:00 27:24:00
TOP/offensive play 28.34 sec 25.15 sec
Penalties 4/50 4/18
1st down passing 3/4 118 yds 9/14 125 yds 1 sk
3rd/long passing 0/1 4/5 44 yds 3 sks
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play 9.8 5.8
3rd down average yards to go 4.6 7.3

Note: Mercer’s final play of the first half is not counted in the numbers above. Also, sacks (and pass plays resulting in sacks) are listed in the passing stats, not the rushing totals — particularly relevant in this game because The Citadel had five sacks.

Random observations:

– Mercer’s 3.5 yards per rush was the lowest allowed this season by the Bulldogs, continuing a positive trend over the first three games.

– The Citadel’s offensive Success Rate was its best so far in 2018, and its offensive Explosiveness quotient was easily the highest in the three contests played so far. The defensive Explosiveness number was the lowest for a Bulldogs opponent this year (which is good, just for clarification).

– The Citadel has had a time of possession edge of at least five minutes in all three games.

– In terms of Red Zone TD rate, the Bulldogs have gone 2 for 3 in all three of their matchups this year.

– This was the first game in which The Citadel did not have the field position edge. However, that doesn’t take into account the kick return TD.

– The Bulldogs’ average yards to go on third down of 4.6 yards was a significant improvement from the first two games of the season, and also indirectly led to the team going for it on 4th down several times. The Citadel was frequently in third-down situations where only four or five yards were needed to move the chains; when the Bulldogs didn’t make it on third down, Brent Thompson was comfortable going for it on 4th-and-short (four of the five fourth-down attempts came on 4th-and-1 or 4th-and-2).

– Jordan Black threw ten passes against Mercer. Only three of them came in true passing situations (2nd-and-long or 3rd-and-long). Given the chance to throw a higher percentage of his passes in standard down-and-distance circumstances, Black excelled. On those seven pass attempts, he was 5 for 7 for 167 yards.

– In a game with more of its share of big plays, one of the most important was a five-yard gain. With the Bulldogs deep in their own territory midway through the fourth quarter, Curt Nixon made a nice catch on 3rd-and-3 to pick up a first down. Four plays later, The Citadel led for the first time in the contest.

– Only two kickoff returns in The Citadel’s gridiron history have been longer than Rod Johnson’s 94-yard game-winner on Saturday. Bud Pough had a 100-yard KOR for a touchdown against Appalachian State in 2002, and Danny Miller had a 95-yarder versus Wofford in 1979.

Johnson’s kickoff return matched Carlos Frank’s 94-yard TD against Georgia Southern in 1996.

– Raleigh Webb’s 77-yard touchdown catch from Jordan Black was the 10th-longest pass play in school annals, and the longest since 2008, when Bart Blanchard threw a 78-yarder to Andre Roberts versus Webber International. It was the longest TD reception caught by a Bulldog not named Andre Roberts in this century.

– Khafari Buffalo’s first career interception was a big one, and a rather athletic play to boot. He was injured making the pick and did not return to the game. I hope he is okay, as it appeared on replay that his head hit the turf when he fell.

– I also wish Mercer quarterback Robert Riddle the best after his unfortunate injury late in the game. He seemed to hurt his shoulder, and it did not look good.

I was impressed with Riddle, who has a sneaky-strong throwing arm. He is one of those guys who you don’t think can make the throw he’s about to make, but then the ball gets where it needs to go. Riddle had a little help from some of his receivers (particularly Marquise Irvin).

– If Riddle is going to be out for an extended period of time, at least Mercer has the benefit of an experienced (and in my opinion, talented) quarterback in Kaelan Riley. The Bears now have a bye week, which should help in his preparation for their next game, which is at Yale.

While I am not someone who automatically supports SoCon teams against non-league opponents, I am definitely rooting for the Bears in that matchup.

– I could write a 5000-word screed on how poor the officiating was at times on Saturday, but I’ll just say that having instant replay doesn’t help if it isn’t utilized properly. Also, there isn’t much the guy in the booth can do about bad pass interference calls, especially those seemingly made long after the play was over.

It made the victory for the Bulldogs that much sweeter, as they had to overcome more than they really should have. My basic takeaway from the contest was that both teams played well, but that the better team on the day deservedly won the game.

I’ll post a preview of the Towson game later in the week. The Tigers will be a tough matchup for The Citadel, as they look to be considerably better than expected.

That writeup probably won’t be as long as most of my previews. I am very busy over the course of the next few weeks (which is why I could not make the trip to Macon), and will not be able to put as much time into research, writing, etc. There will probably not be a review of the Towson game, and my ETSU preview in two weeks will likely be quite short.

That’s not a big deal, though. A little less verbiage on this blog isn’t going to hurt anybody.

Go Dogs!

2018 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel at Mercer, to be played to be played at Five Star Stadium in Macon, Georgia, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on September 22, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Frank Malloy will handle play-by-play, while Jason Patterson supplies the analysis and Kristin Banks patrols the sidelines.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Game preview from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

– SoCon weekly release

– “Game Day Central” at The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 9/18 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 9/19 radio show (video)

Bulldogs dodge yet another hurricane

– The game between The Citadel and Charleston Southern has been rescheduled

Mercer has two of the SoCon’s players of the week

Boxscore from Mercer-Samford

Takeaways from Mercer’s victory over Samford

Redshirt freshman Robert Riddle is now Mercer’s starting quarterback

– Mercer press conference (from 9/17) featuring Bobby Lamb and players Eric Jackson and Tee Mitchell

I didn’t get a chance to write a separate review of the Chattanooga game, so I’m going to start by discussing that matchup. At the end of this post, I’ve added my traditionally awful photos from the contest.

First, let’s compare some stats from Game 1 (Wofford) and Game 2 (Chattanooga):

Category The Citadel Wofford
Field Position +11 -11
Success Rate 26.1% 32.0%
Explosiveness 0.719 1.745
Finishing drives 4.67 (3) 7.0 (2)
Turnovers 0 3
Possessions 12 13
Offensive Plays 66 53
Yards/rush 3.9 7.7
Yards/pass attempt 2.1 2.9
Yards/play 3.6 6.9
3rd down conversions 2/16 4/10
4th down conversions 4/6 0/0
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 100.0 (2/2)
Net punting 42.4 35.8
Time of possession 32:38:00 27:22:00
TOP/offensive play 29.67 seconds 30.98 seconds
Penalties 2/20 yards 3/45 yards
1st down passing 0/1 3/5, 23 yards
3rd and long passing 0/5 1/1, 3 yards
4th down passing 1/2, 23 yards 0/0
1st down yards/play 3.75 4.75
3rd down average yards to go 7.9 7.4

 

Category The Citadel Chattanooga
Field Position 11 -11
Success Rate 45.3% 46.9%
Explosiveness 0.727 1.65
Finishing drives 3.5 (6) 2.8 (5)
Turnovers 2 1
Possessions 9 9
Offensive Plays 75 49
Yards/rush 4.3 4.7
Yards/pass attempt 7.5 12.1
Yards/play 4.7 8.8
3rd down conversions 10/18 4/11
4th down conversions 3/4 0/1
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 50.0 (2/4)
Net punting 25.3 -1.5
Time of possession 37:07:00 22:53:00
TOP/offensive play 27.84 sec 25.60 sec
Penalties 7/78 8/47
1st down passing 2/4 44 yds 6/12 131 yds
3rd/long passing 2/2 14 yds 1 sk 5/6 149 yds 1 int
4th down passing
0/0 0/1
1st down yards/play 5.8 7.4
3rd down average yards to go 6.5 9.2

Note: Overtime statistics are not included, and the same is true for Chattanooga’s final three plays of the first half. As I mentioned in the review of the Wofford game, the stats for that contest do not include The Citadel’s last play of the first half.

One of the things that might surprise some folks is that The Citadel and Chattanooga had almost the same percentage of successful offensive plays. The Mocs, of course, had a significant edge in “explosive plays”, which was also the case for the Bulldogs against Wofford. The numbers in that category were quite similar for both games.

On the defensive side of the ledger, my primary observation was that all too often, UTC quarterback Nick Tiano had time to admire the late afternoon sky above Charleston before throwing the football. The Bulldogs obviously struggled to cover Bryce Nunnelly, but almost all of the wideout’s big gains came on slow-developing plays.

Tiano was not sacked, despite throwing 28 passes. He was pressured occasionally, as The Citadel was credited with six “hurries”. The Bulldogs also successfully defensed six passes (five breakups and a pick). While each hurry did not automatically result in a pass breakup/interception, the fact there were six of each was not coincidental.

The Citadel’s offense was better versus UTC than it was against Wofford, at least in terms of consistency. The big plays largely were absent, however, aside from Jordan Black’s nifty 25-yard TD toss to Grant Drakeford at the end of the first half. That play was the Bulldogs’ biggest “explosion” play in the first two games, one of only three plays so far in the young season with an IsoPPP number over 2.

All three of those “2+” plays were pass plays. I think that if Jordan Black has the opportunity to throw the ball more often in standard down-and-distance settings, rather than mostly airing it out in passing down situations, The Citadel could see a sizable uptick in explosive plays. One thing I was happy to see against the Mocs was Black throwing the ball on first down, which he did four times. He also passed twice on second-and-short plays.

On The Citadel’s 11 pass plays (ten throws and a sack) versus Chattanooga, the Bulldogs were in obvious passing situations five times, and in standard downs on six occasions. I think that is a solid mix. It is much better than what happened against Wofford, when all 11 of Black’s passes came in actual or de facto passing situations.

I appreciate Brent Thompson discussing his fourth-down calls from the Chattanooga game on his radio show. It is interesting to get insight on the coach’s thought process for each of those situations.

Generally, I agreed with his decision-making versus UTC. Some of his calls were very aggressive, particularly going for it on 4th-and-2 from the Bulldogs’ own 30-yard line in the first possession of the third quarter. The fake punt was also a take-no-prisoners play; alas, it got short-circuited by a fumble.

Both of those calls came in or around what I denoted as “Boo Territory” on my 4th-down decision chart, a graphic created for my August essay on creating more big plays. “Boo Territory” is actually a reference to one of The Citadel’s mascots, though it could also serve as what the reaction in the stands might be for a failed attempt in that part of the field. At any rate, I liked the pugnacious nature of the calls.

However, there was a more conservative decision made on The Citadel’s opening possession of the contest. The Bulldogs had already converted a 4th-and-2 on the UTC 38-yard line earlier in the drive. On 4th-and-10 from the Mocs’ 33-yard line, though, Thompson elected to punt. The kick went into the end zone, for a net of only 13 yards.

I wish the Bulldogs had gone for it, even on 4th-and-10. Part of my thinking is that there are usually a very limited number of possessions in The Citadel’s games (against UTC, each team only had nine).

When a drive gets inside the opposing 40, it may be that taking a chance is the way to go, simply because there will be few opportunities to get back in that area over the course of the contest.

Thompson wanted to play field position at the time. He may also have influenced by the third-down play, which gained only 3 yards, and came after a low-blocking penalty put the Bulldogs “behind the chains”.

Speaking of that low-block infraction, I was interested (and concerned) by this article in SBNation about the rule changes on blocks below the waist:

College football has seemingly figured out a way to slow down a good triple-option attack: throw flags…Army has gone from averaging 4.2 penalties per game (10th in FBS) to 6.3 this year (63rd), and Georgia Tech has gone from 4.0 (fifth) to 5.0 (22nd).

A tweet embedded in the piece noted that Army “has been called for 7 illegal blocks in [its] first 3 games [after the] Black Knights were whistled for 4 illegal blocks in 13 games last season”.

The Bulldogs have been called for a low block in each of their first two games. The 15-yard penalty assessed for each infraction all but eliminates a possession for a triple option team, as Brent Thompson pointed out on his radio show.

One suspects the powers-that-be in college football would like to see the triple option go the way of the dinosaurs, preferring the more open (and arguably more dangerous) spread offenses currently in vogue.

The rule changes for this season appear particularly specious. As Paul Johnson was quoted as saying:

Either blocking below the waist is dangerous or it’s not. It’s not any more dangerous five yards down the field than it is on the line of scrimmage. If it’s that scary, they ought to not tackle below the waist.

This is an issue that will be watched throughout the season. That includes games played in the Southern Conference.

Two quick special teams comments:

  • The Bulldogs have to start making field goals.
  • Chattanooga averaged a net of -1.5 yards (!) on two punts, but somehow did not allow any points on the subsequent possessions.

In August, Mike Capaccio was named The Citadel’s new director of athletics. Last week, he discussed several issues related to his position in a wide-ranging interview with Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. You can read the article here: Link

I wish Capaccio the best of luck, but I have to shake my head at the hiring process.

Capaccio had been serving as The Citadel’s interim AD since mid-July, but says he had not put his hat in the ring for the full-time gig until he was asked to.

“I was encouraged to apply by some people in administration, and it was not something I was anticipating,” he said. “I was happy in the role I was in. It happened very quickly; it was under a three-week deal from when I applied until I was named AD.

“What I was told is that I was the guy who could come in and get this thing going, because I already knew the inner workings of the organization. The Citadel is a different school, and it takes time to get accustomed to it.”

In other words, someone came to Capaccio, said “Hey, you need to apply” — and less than three weeks later he was the AD.

That, after statements like these:

“The challenge is, we truly have an unbelievable candidate pool in front of us,” [search committee chairman Dan] Bornstein said. “It will be very difficult to narrow the field, because we have an extraordinary field, and an extraordinarily diverse field in all aspects.”

Daniel Parker of Parker Executive Search told the committee that the field of 100 interested applicants was unusually large.

“Typically, we have 60 to 70 candidates,” he said. “On this search, we’ve had more than 100 who went through the process of submitting a letter of interest and a resume, providing references and completing a questionnaire.

“We have sitting athletic directors from Divisions I, II and III, deputy ADs, senior associates, senior women’s administrators, with ethnic and gender diversity. They come from backgrounds in compliance, fund-raising and coaching.”

Parker also said there were candidates from all the “Power 5” conferences (the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12).

Who are we kidding here?

First of all, why was a search firm hired (for $70,000) before potential internal candidates could be assessed?

Parker Executive Search supposedly rustled up over 100 candidates (including “sitting athletic directors from Divisions I, II, and III”). Despite that, someone (or multiple someones) in an administrative capacity at The Citadel decided, very late in the game, to call an on-campus employee and ask him to apply for the position.

Like I said, I hope Capaccio does a great job for The Citadel. He has a reputation for being an outstanding fundraiser, and the military college certainly needs someone with that skill set as its AD.

You will excuse me for thinking, however, that Parker ought to refund the school at least part of that $70,000 — or if not, explain the real purpose of the search.

With the recent postponement (and cancellation, in some cases) of numerous Division I football games due to Hurricane Florence, there has been talk that college football needs to make an adjustment in its annual calendar. Given the number of contests affected by weather problems in recent years, schools are starting to look for ways to make their respective schedules more flexible.

The easiest way to do that is to add a second bye week to the schedule. This is something that has been under discussion in recent years.

It won’t matter next year, because in 2019 there are 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and the Saturday after Thanksgiving (rather than the usual 13). Every FBS team will have two byes next fall.

However, most years there are only 13 such Saturdays, and hence only one bye week.

If a change would be made, the college football season would start (for most teams) the weekend before Labor Day, meaning the schedule would start one week earlier that it does now.

This would have repercussions for FCS schools as well, because it would increase the chances of the subdivision allowing teams to schedule 12 regular-season games on an annual basis, instead of just having the option in seasons with 14 Saturdays (like in 2019).

An earlier start to the FCS regular season could be pushed again if the FBS restructures its regular season. The higher level of Division I has been considering a standardized 14-week format that would require two byes for each FBS team.

Big South commissioner Kyle Kallander, whose conference voted against the permanent 12th game in the FCS, agreed such a change on the FBS level could become a game-changer for the defeated proposal in the subdivision.

“The Big South membership was not unanimous in its opposition to the 12th game proposal,” he said. “However, we voted against it because we prefer that the (NCAA) Football Oversight Committee conclude its study of the football calendar before any further extension of the season. At the conclusion of that study, should there be a move toward a standard 14-week season, our position may change.”

I think a 12-game regular season would be quite beneficial to The Citadel. It would almost certainly mean an additional home game every season for the military college, and with the added revenue that goes along with it.

The postponement of The Citadel’s game with Charleston Southern created a bit of scheduling trivia. From The Citadel’s game notes:

The change in the schedule means the Bulldogs will open the season with three straight conference games. That has not happened since the Bulldogs opened the 1926 season with three straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association games.

In 1926, The Citadel started 2-1, losing to Chattanooga but beating Stetson at home and winning…at Mercer.

The 1926 team is better known for beating both Clemson (15-6) and South Carolina (12-9) that season, each away from home (the victory over the Gamecocks came in Orangeburg). The head coach was Carl Prause, and the team was captained by Ephriam “Ephie” Seabrook, a two-time All-State guard for the Bulldogs.

Seabrook would later coach the South Carolina team in the Shrine Bowl (in 1941). He is also remembered for driving Tom Howie (the future “Major of St. Lo”) from a Rhodes Scholar candidate interview in Columbia to Charleston in 1928, arriving just before kickoff of a game versus Clemson. (Led by the irrepressible Howie, the Bulldogs beat the Tigers 12-7.)

It is hard to put much stock in Mercer’s team statistics after three games, partly because the Bears have only played one competitive game. MU opened the season with a 66-14 loss to a very good Memphis team, then followed that up with a 45-3 pasting of Jacksonville, a Pioneer League squad.

Last week, Mercer opened its SoCon campaign with a 30-24 victory at Samford, an eye-opener for a lot of people (though maybe not such a big surprise to veteran observers).

The game was fairly evenly played on the stat sheet, but the Bears dominated time of possession (35:27), consistently converting on third down (7 for 13). Mercer held a 17-7 lead at halftime and never relinquished it.

Robert Riddle (6’3″, 207 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, is the new starting quarterback for the Bears. The game against Samford was Riddle’s first as the full-time starter, as he has won the job over last year’s QB, Kaelan Riley.

Riddle had a fine game versus the Birmingham Bulldogs, completing 23 of 34 passes for 316 yards, with one TD and one interception. For that effort he was named the SoCon’s offensive player of the week. He is apparently no relation to former Elon quarterback/pugilist Scott Riddle.

Senior running back Tee Mitchell (5’10”, 204 lbs.) rushed for 103 yards against Samford. Mitchell, a second-team preseason All-SoCon selection who led the Bears in rushing last season, scored two touchdowns against The Citadel in last year’s contest between the two teams. He went to high school at The Bolles School in Jacksonville before spending a year at the Air Force Academy prep school.

Nine different Mercer players caught passes in last week’s game. Marquise Irvin (6’3″, 216 lbs.), a preseason first-team all-league pick, led the Bears in receptions with six. The native of Huntsville had three catches versus the Bulldogs last season. He also serves as Mercer’s punt returner.

Sam Walker (6’4″, 242 lbs.) was the preseason first-team all-conference tight end in the SoCon. He is a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia.

Although listed as a backup, converted defensive back Stephen Houzah (5’9″, 161 lbs.) showed his potential as a wide receiver against Samford, catching a 73-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 293 lbs, though that is including a 255 lb. right tackle (Dawson Ellis). Listed weights for the other four positions on the o-line: 287, 297, 305, 319.

The left tackle spot is manned by 6’3″, 287 lb. redshirt junior Austin Sanders, a preseason first-team all-SoCon selection. Sanders, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, began his collegiate career at Mississippi Valley State.

Mercer generally employs a 3-4 defense, though as must always be noted, teams often line up differently when facing a triple option opponent.

The Bears had three preseason all-conference picks on D, one for each level of the defense. One of them, redshirt senior outside linebacker LeMarkus Bailey (5’11”, 199 lbs.), was a first-team selection.

On the defensive line, Mercer features second-team all-SoCon preseason choice Isaiah Buehler (6’3″, 259 lbs.) and 6’0″, 288 lb. noseguard/bowling ball Dorian Kithcart. They are a tough duo; Kithcart in particular had an outstanding game versus The Citadel last season.

The third man on the d-line is seriously large 6’5″, 297 lb. defensive end Destin Guillen. The Greenville resident, like Kithcart a redshirt junior, is one of three South Carolinians on the Mercer roster.

Eric Jackson (5’8″, 172 lbs.), Mercer’s starting strong safety, was a preseason all-league pick. Jackson had seven tackles against the Bulldogs in last year’s contest.

Starting cornerback Harrison Poole (5’11”, 196 lbs.) had an interception last week versus Samford, and also had a pick against The Citadel last season.

Placekicker Cole Fisher (6’2″, 188 lbs.) was last week’s special teams player of the week in the SoCon. He made 3 of 4 field goal tries against Samford. Fisher also handles kickoffs for the Bears.

Matt Shiel (5’11”, 209 lbs.) is Mercer’s starting punter. Shiel is a native of Doncaster, Australia.

Shiel has one of the more unusual college backgrounds in Division I football, as he played his freshman year of football at Auburn before transferring to Mercer for the 2015 season. He subsequently went back to school in Australia for two years before transferring back to MU this year. Yes, he has actually transferred to Mercer twice.

Starting wide receiver David Durden (6’2″”, 197 lbs.), a freshman from Midville, Georgia, is listed as the primary kickoff returner for MU, while Steven Nixon (5’11”, 221 lbs.) returns as the long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Macon, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 92 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 69 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Mercer is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 48 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 17-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Western Carolina is a 24-point favorite over VMI; and Samford is a 3 1/2 point favorite at Chattanooga.

Wofford is off this week.

– Also of note:  Elon is a 13-point favorite at Charleston Southern, and Alabama is a 25 1/2 point favorite over Texas A&M. The Citadel’s opponent next week, Towson, has a bye this week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 67th in FCS. Mercer is ranked 28th (a 14-spot jump from last week).

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 24% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Mercer 29, The Citadel 19.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (19th, a leap of 19 spots from last week), Elon (21st), Colgate (25th), Kennesaw State (27th), Wofford (31st), Samford (37th), Furman (38th), Yale (39th), Chattanooga (40th), Western Carolina (52nd), Charleston Southern (63rd), UT Martin (68th), East Tennessee State (86th), Gardner-Webb (95th), Tennessee Tech (96th), South Carolina State (97th), Presbyterian (102nd), VMI (116th), Davidson (124th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Eastern Washington.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, LSU, Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Washington. Mississippi State is 11th, Notre Dame 12th, Virginia Tech 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Duke 20th, Boston College 21st, South Carolina 29th, Wake Forest 38th, Vanderbilt 46th, Memphis 52nd, Appalachian State 56th, Florida State 59th, Army 64th, Navy 65th, Toledo 73rd, North Texas 74th, Tennessee 75th, Air Force 78th, Wyoming 80th, North Carolina 88th, Georgia Southern 108th, Coastal Carolina 110th, Charlotte 125th, Liberty 126th, Old Dominion 128th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Mercer’s notable alumni:  music promoter Phil Walden, NBA player/coach Sam Mitchell, and publisher/executive Reg Murphy.

– Mercer’s roster includes 62 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  Florida (12), Alabama (5), Tennessee (4), South Carolina (3), North Carolina (2), and Texas (1).

Mercer has one of the least geographically diverse rosters in the SoCon, though not included in the above breakdown is punter Matt Shiel, who as noted earlier is from Australia.

The three Palmetto State players on Mercer’s squad are the aforementioned Destin Guillen (a product of Berea High School), redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Burnett (who attended Airport High School), and freshman offensive lineman Tyrese Cohen (from Midland Valley High School).

However, Mercer once again has no players from legendary gridiron factory Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a circumstance which in the long run will result in a painfully low ceiling for the Bears’ aspirations as a program. As has been said many times, ignoring the famed Maroon and Orange is a perilous maneuver.

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

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Chattanooga game. Mason Kinsey makes an appearance on the depth chart as one of the Bulldogs’ defensive tackles. Also, Rod Johnson is listed as the primary kick returner.

– The Citadel has a 3-5-1 record on games played on September 22, including a 2-1 mark in SoCon play. The three wins:

  • 1962: 19-0 over Davidson, in a game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Dwight Street caught a touchdown pass from Wade St. John, and the halfback also added two field goals. Sid Mitchell had the other TD for the Bulldogs, with his score following a drive set up by a Joe Cannarella fumble recovery.
  • 1979: 27-14 over Vanderbilt at Dudley Field in Nashville. Tim Russell was 7 for 12 passing for 111 yards and a TD (caught by Byron Walker), and also added 74 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, both Stump Mitchell and Danny Miller rushed for over 100 yards, with Mitchell scoring once and Miller twice. The Bulldogs rolled up 499 yards of total offense.
  • 1990: 21-10 over Marshall before 17,105 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Everette Sands rushed for 135 yards and a touchdown, while Jack Douglas accounted for The Citadel’s other two TDs. Lester Smith, J.J. Davis, and Shannon Walker all had interceptions, as the Bulldogs’ defense forced six turnovers.

– The Citadel has victories over Mercer in four different cities:  Charleston, Macon, Savannah, and Augusta. The Bulldogs are 3-0 in Macon, with wins in 1926, 2014, and 2016.

– Saturday is Family Weekend at Mercer. I suspect there will be a lot of people on campus, with many of the visitors (but not all) attending the game. The parking lots open at 9 am.

It is hard to judge how The Citadel will fare this week, mainly because of the unexpected break in the season. While the Bulldogs are 0-2 so far, there are positives that can be taken from their play to go along with some obvious negatives. However, now The Citadel has to essentially re-launch its season.

Can the Bulldogs establish some momentum? Will they avoid falling behind early in the game?

Mercer is coming off what might be its most impressive victory in conference play since Bobby Lamb restarted the program, and will be at home. There is an element of the unknown about the Bears as well, however.

How will Mercer react to a big win and subsequently being a solid favorite the following week? Also, I have this nagging question running through my head — just how good is Samford, really? Do we know for sure?

I guess we’ll find out some of the answers to those questions, and more, on Saturday.

Here are the really lousy pictures from the Chattanooga game. They are not annotated, although the game shots are in order; as usual, there are more photos from the first half than the second, for a variety of reasons (but mostly operator error).

 

2018 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on September 8, 2018.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Kevin Fitzgerald will handle play-by-play, while former Bulldogs quarterback Dom Allen supplies the analysis. Danielle Hensley is the sideline reporter. 

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

Feature story on Lorenzo Ward in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Chattanooga

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

Brent Thompson’s 9/4 press conference, including comments from Lorenzo Ward

– Brent Thompson’s 9/5 radio show (video)

Noah Dawkins is the SoCon’s defensive player of the week

Against Tennessee Tech, the Mocs had a lot of big plays

UTC wants its offensive running game to be consistent

Mocs focusing on discipline against The Citadel’s triple option attack

UTC press conference (from 9/4)

– My review of last week’s game against Wofford

My review of The Citadel’s victory over Chattanooga last season

Heat was a bit of a theme last weekend, not just in Spartanburg, but in Clemson and Columbia and elsewhere throughout college football, especially in the southeast.

Fans of the Bulldogs were admittedly fortunate not to suffer through a noon kickoff, unlike the poor souls watching Furman-Clemson and Coastal Carolina-South Carolina. However, the weather was still oppressive on the visitors’ side of Gibbs Stadium, until the sun finally moved behind the stands at the beginning of the third quarter.

That came a bit too late for at least one supporter, who passed out about 15 feet from where I was sitting. After a while, he appeared to recover, but the entire episode was unnerving. It was a wonder there weren’t more incidents of that sort on Saturday.

(Shout out to the cadets who came over to help out, particularly the one who stayed with the fan and walked with him out of the stands.)

Back in the day, the football season didn’t always start so early.

This week’s game, the Bulldogs’ second of this year’s campaign, will take place on September 8. The Citadel’s football team first played a game on that date in 1973. At the time, it was the earliest a Bulldogs squad had ever played a season opener.

The Citadel played its 1977 lid-lifter on September 3, but did not play any other game prior to September 8 until 1985, when the Bulldogs debuted on August 31. From that point forward, the season has generally started the first week of September, although The Citadel did not play a game on September 1 until 2001 (the program has since played three more games in August).

The addition of the 12th regular season game in FBS (which became a permanent fixture in 2006) contributed to the season starting earlier, along with the rising influence of television.

Nevertheless, despite the potential hazards involved, football games in the heat of late August and early September are here to stay — and at least one media member says that fans should quit complaining about such contests.

According to (South Carolina) SportsTalk co-host Will Palaszczuk, “Any mentality that would prefer a game with no TV at night over being on the SEC Network at noon has no regard for the health of the program at large. Hydrate, maybe stay off the sauce for a week and lather up with sunscreen.”

That’s right folks, stay off the “sauce”, at least if you’re not a media member sitting in an air-conditioned press box, because “Television exposure pays the schools in the Southeastern Conference [and other Power 5 leagues] exponentially more than ticket revenue.” Never mind the fact that those fans in the stands aren’t profiting from all of that money; they’re still paying top dollar for tickets (and parking, etc.).

Listening to Palaszczuk’s rant on the subject (which opened the August 23 show in which Phil Kornblut interviewed Brent Thompson), I was struck by his lack of empathy for the fans. How dare they question kickoff times! What monsters!

Of course, as we learned last week, even a later kickoff time can occasionally be of only a limited benefit. This Saturday’s game against Chattanooga also kicks off at 6 pm ET (as do 12 other games taking place in the southeast). Let’s hope conditions are a little better in Charleston.

Now on sale in the West stands of Johnson Hagood Stadium: Beer!

The Citadel sold beer at home games for the first time in 2017, and ended up losing money on the initiative. Cadets were not allowed to buy beer at the stadium, and sales were restricted to a “beer garden” on the east (visitors’) side of the stadium.

In addition to [now] allowing cadets to buy beer, new Citadel athletic director Mike Capaccio said beer will be sold at three concession stands and a beer trailer on the west (home) side of Johnson Hagood Stadium. Hawkers also will sell beer in the stands on both sides of the stadium.

Does beer go well with boiled peanuts? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Selling alcohol to people sitting in the stands is not exactly a natural part of the bucolic college football experience. However, it is 2018 and The Citadel’s department of athletics has to investigate every potential revenue stream. I’m not crazy about it, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it, either.

I am glad they are selling it on the home side this season, instead of last year’s “pitch a tent on the visitors’ side and hope for the best” approach. That obviously didn’t go well. If you’re going to do it, make a commitment to the concept and do it right.

As for selling beer to cadets of age, I have mixed feelings. I would rather that it not be allowed, if I’m being honest, but I can also understand the point of view that part of demanding responsibility from an individual is granting that person the opportunity to be responsible in the first place.

My biggest gripe is that the new concessions deal will apparently result in Sierra Mist being sold instead of Sprite, which is an outrage.

Last season’s game between the Bulldogs and the Mocs was played at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga. How many more times the two schools will meet at that particular location is open to question.

Mounting frustration has led UTC to start looking into the possibility of building a new venue where it could start playing — and making money — soon. The school’s purchase of Engel Stadium in 2008 gives the school an option, and it has outlined a facilities master plan that includes the possibility of a 12,500-seat stadium that could be expanded to more than 15,000. The new facility could have as many as 25 suites with premium seating areas, and UTC would look into the possibility of moving its football building to the new site…

…UTC is charged $12,000 a month for use of the facility, where between now and the end of September it will play two football games and five home matches. In addition to the rental fee, Finley receives all of the revenue from suites, concessions and parking.

Back in April, the school was approached by Finley Stadium about a contract that would cost the school $268,000 a year over five years — nearly twice the rate of its current deal. The school declined, ultimately deciding on short-term deals with options to renew.

UTC has played at Finley Stadium since 1997, the year the facility opened. Previously, the Mocs hosted football games at 10,000-seat Chamberlain Field, which had been around since 1908.

The ability to garner all revenues from sporting events is clearly a focus for the school’s leadership, as well as not having to worry about sharing the building with multiple soccer franchises. Oh, and the director of athletics dropped this little quote too:

“If we leave, we can have our own facility at 12,500, pack it, create demand and put footings there where if we have the opportunity to go to Conference USA or the Sun Belt, let’s play.

Of the 103 players on Chattanooga’s roster, 29 are transfers from junior colleges or four-year schools. Of that group, 15 are on the two-deep, including eight expected starters (three offensive linemen, the quarterback and running back, a wide receiver, a defensive lineman, and a cornerback).

That is a lot of transfers. Part of the reason for the influx of new players is related to the change in head coaches (this is Tom Arth’s second year in charge of the Mocs). Even so, it is an unusually high number.

There are two issues at play. Well, actually, there is only one, because it shouldn’t matter in the least to its opponents how many transfers Chattanooga has on its roster, as long as they are students in good standing.

Sometimes fans get huffy about this topic, especially when they support schools for which transfers are somewhat unusual, if not rare. It isn’t a good idea to get all high and mighty about this, however, because a sense of righteousness doesn’t really mesh well with intercollegiate gridiron activity.

After all, we’re not talking about a morality play. It’s a football game.

Now, you could argue that league schools should more or less recruit in a similar fashion, and that isn’t necessarily a bad position to take — except that we’re talking about the Southern Conference. This is a league that has a 90+ year history of being a mixing bowl of disparate institutions, including the current setup (public and private schools, military colleges, a school without a football program, etc.).

These schools have vastly different missions. Being a member of the SoCon means accepting that fact, getting on the bus, and going to the next game.

The real issue with all the transfers, from Chattanooga’s point of view, is whether or not Arth can get them to mesh into a cohesive unit.

Another consideration, at least when building a program, is accounting for the constant churn on the roster. There is also the issue of “recruiting over” existing players on the squad by bringing in a transfer to take a spot (though this may be more of a problematic situation in basketball rather than football, depending on position).

Chattanooga will have two extra days to prepare for the Bulldogs, as the Mocs opened their 2018 season at home on a Thursday night, defeating Tennessee Tech 34-10. The game took almost six hours to play, thanks to a weather delay in the fourth quarter that lasted for two hours and forty-nine minutes.

While there weren’t many people in the stands when the game ended, the announced attendance was 9,020, which strikes me as a very respectable turnout for a Thursday night game.

UTC’s defense did not allow a touchdown, with Tennessee Tech’s only score coming on a pick-six that in my opinion was more of a fumble than an INT. The Mocs’ D had an interception return for a TD of its own.

Chattanooga’s offense produced 455 yards of total offense, with 318 of those yards coming through the air. The Mocs’ four touchdowns included TD passes of 89 and 63 yards.

Nick Tiano (6’5″, 240 lbs.), a transfer from Mississippi State in his second year with the Mocs’ program, had a fine opening game. The native of Chattanooga was 21 of 32 passing, with two touchdowns and the aforementioned dubious pick.

He’s a big guy, and he can run some, too, picking up a net of 33 yards on the ground last week. Tiano started the first four games of 2017 for the Mocs last year before getting hurt and missing the rest of the campaign. The Citadel did not face him in last season’s matchup.

Tyrell Price (6’0″, 220 lbs.) had 20 rushes for 98 yards against Tennessee Tech, with a long of 40 yards. He also caught five balls, so he has to be watched as a potential target out of the backfield. Price scored 24 touchdowns last season at East Mississippi Community College.

Bryce Nunnelly (6’2″, 185 lbs.) was the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week after a 7-catch, 161-yard performance against the Golden Eagles. That included an 89-yard scamper down the sidelines in the second quarter. The sophomore from Cleveland, Tennessee had two catches in last year’s game versus The Citadel.

Fellow wideout Bingo Morton (6’2″, 215 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. The senior from Atlanta had three receptions against the Bulldogs last year, for a total of 56 yards.

Chattanooga’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 297 lbs. They include transfers from three FBS programs, along with a preseason all-league player.

Right tackle Harrison Moon (6’5″, 290 lbs.), like Nick Tiano, transferred from Mississippi State. Moon is from Sevierville, Tennessee (quite a few of UTC’s transfers grew up in the Volunteer State).

Imposing left tackle Malcolm White (6’7″, 315 lbs.) was a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick. White is a junior from Johnson City who has started all 25 games of his college career.

UTC’s defense usually lines up in a 3-4, though obviously that can change against a triple option attack.

The key to the Mocs’ D, as is the case for many SoCon teams, is its defensive line. Isaiah Mack (6’3″, 305 lbs.) was a preseason first-team all-league choice this year after being a second-team pick by the coaches after last season. The senior from Tunnell Hill, Georgia had seven tackles in last year’s game against The Citadel.

Fellow defensive end Derek Mahaffey (6’2″, 310 lbs.) was also a second-team All-SoCon selection last year. He began his 2018 season with a nine-tackle effort against Tennessee Tech. Also worth mentioning: Mahaffey wears jersey number 5.

Linebacker Marshall Cooper (6’0″, 220 lbs.) had seven tackles last week versus the Golden Eagles, including a sack. Cooper is a junior from Hixson, Tennessee.

Kareem Orr (5’11”, 195 lbs.), a senior cornerback who started his college career at Arizona State before transferring home to Chattanooga, was a preseason All-SoCon selection. Orr had an interception in last week’s game.

The other starting cornerback, C.J. Fritz (5’11”, 180 lbs.), is also a senior from Chattanooga. Fritz has more career starts (26) than another other Mocs player.

The Mocs return their starting placekicker and punter from last season. The two specialists attended the same high school in Chattanooga.

Victor Ulmo (5’8″, 200 lbs.) is originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil. The sophomore was 9 for 12 on field goal tries last season, with a long of 44 yards. Ulmo made two field goals last week versus Tennessee Tech.

Junior punter Colin Brewer (6’3″, 220 lbs.) also serves as the holder on placekicks. He is on the Mortell Holder of the Year Watch List, which proves conclusively that there is a watch list for everything in college football.

Long snapper Jared Nash (6’0″, 220 lbs.) started five games for UTC last year before suffering a season-ending injury.

Brandon Dowdell (5’10”, 195 lbs.), the Mocs’ starting safety, is Chattanooga’s primary return threat for both punts and kickoffs.

Dowdell was the preseason first team All-SoCon return specialist, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans of The Citadel, after his superb performance against the Bulldogs last season. Then a freshman, Dowdell had a punt return of 37 yards, and ran back three kickoffs for a total of 130 yards, including a 50-yard return.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 30% chance of thunderstorms during the day, with a high of 88 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 76 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 1-point favorite over Chattanooga, with an over/under of 46.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 2 1/2 point favorite at Elon; Mercer is a 26 1/2 point favorite over Jacksonville;  Wofford is a 29 1/2 point favorite over VMI; Samford is a 34 1/2 point underdog at Florida State; and East Tennessee State is a 37 1/2 point underdog at Tennessee.

Western Carolina is off this week.

– Also of note: Towson is a 30 1/2 point underdog at Wake Forest, and Alabama is a 36 1/2 point favorite over Arkansas State. The Citadel’s opponent on September 15, Charleston Southern, has a bye this week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 61st in FCS (dropping four spots from last week). Chattanooga is ranked 53rd.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 55% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 24, Chattanooga 21.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Yale (26th), Kennesaw State (27th), Furman (28th), Samford (29th), Wofford (32nd), Elon (37th), Towson (40th), Colgate (42nd), Mercer (44th), Western Carolina (47th), UT Martin (54th), Charleston Southern (58th), East Tennessee State (81st), Gardner-Webb (83rd), Presbyterian (96th), Tennessee Tech (100th), South Carolina State (102nd), VMI (117th), Davidson (123rd), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Eastern Washington.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Auburn, Wisconsin, Penn State, Notre Dame, and LSU. Virginia Tech is 11th, North Carolina State 13th, Wake Forest 25th, South Carolina 29th, Florida State 36th, Memphis 48th, Appalachian State 60th, North Carolina 65th, Toledo 68th, Wyoming 70th, Army 71st, Navy 72nd, Tennessee 76th, Air Force 79th, Georgia Southern 118th, Coastal Carolina 121st, Old Dominion 122nd, Liberty 123rd, Charlotte 126th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Chattanooga’s notable alumni: actor Hugh “Ward Cleaver” Beaumont (who played football while at the school), writer and literary critic John W. Aldridge, and professional golfer Gibby Gilbert.

– Chattanooga’s game notes roster includes 49 players from Tennessee. Other states represented on its squad:  Georgia (27), Alabama (15), Florida (6), Mississippi (2), Texas (2), and one each from Colorado and Kentucky.

There are no natives of South Carolina playing for UTC, which means that for a second straight week The Citadel’s opponent has no graduates of famed football factory Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School on its team. Tom Arth surely must know that any future success for the program depends on adding stars from the Maroon and Orange to his group of Mocs.

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

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the Wofford game. Noah Dawkins is now listed as the starter at inside linebacker (no surprise there). Also listed as starters this week: freshman defensive back Chris Beverly, freshman “bandit” Destin Mack, and redshirt freshman Haden Haas, who started at center against the Terriers and is back in that role versus the Mocs (with Tyler Davis at right guard).

– The Citadel has a 3-3 record on games played on September 8, winning the last three such contests, all at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

  • 1990:  34-31 over William and Mary, the season opener that year. Jack Douglas got into the end zone twice; Everette Sands, Speizio Stowers, and Bill Phillips also scored touchdowns for the Bulldogs. However, The Citadel still needed a late-game interception by Derek Moore to hold off the Tribe.
  • 2007:  76-0 over Webber International, the biggest blowout victory for the Bulldogs since 1909. Duran Lawson threw three touchdown passes to Andre Roberts, while Tory Cooper added two rushing TDs. The Bulldogs’ Mel Capers blocked a punt for a score, while The Citadel’s defense contributed a fumble return TD and a pick-six.
  • 2012: 23-21 over Georgia Southern, one of the more exciting games at JHS in recent years. Thomas Warren’s late field goal (his third of the game) was the difference, though Georgia Southern got a last-second field goal try of its own (but missed). Aaron Miller and Rah Muhammad came up big in the win over the third-ranked Eagles, although the lasting memory of this game for many fans was the postgame interview of Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken: “They whipped our fannies.

– Saturday is both Grandparents’ Day and Youth Football Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with ticket deals available for old and young alike.

This game features two teams that were picked to finish sixth or seventh in the SoCon standings by most prognosticators. Some had The Citadel ahead of Chattanooga, others listed the Mocs over the Bulldogs.

In other words, this is expected to be an even matchup. That is reflected in the line as well.

I can’t argue with that. I don’t have a really good sense of how this game will play out. Can the Bulldogs stop the Mocs’ passing attack? Will Chattanooga be able to run effectively against The Citadel’s defense? Can the Bulldogs throw the ball successfully at all?

Last year, The Citadel had a very good day running the football, and controlled the clock because of it. Despite that, Chattanooga had four chances to score and win the game from the Bulldogs’ 11-yard line as the contest came to its conclusion.

The Citadel managed to hold on for the victory last year. Can the Bulldogs make it three in a row over the Mocs?

Lots of questions. On Saturday, we will get the answers.

Game Review, 2018: Wofford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” package, The Post and Courier

– Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– AP game story

– School release

– Video from WCSC-TV (postgame discussion with Brent Thompson)

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

Let’s look at some stats:

Category The Citadel Wofford
Field Position* +11 -11
Success Rate* 26.1% 32.0%
Explosiveness* 0.719 1.745
Finishing drives 4.67 (3) 7.0 (2)
Turnovers 0 3
Possessions* 12 13
Offensive Plays 66 53
Yards/rush 3.9 7.7
Yards/pass attempt 2.1 2.9
Yards/play 3.6 6.9
3rd down conversions 2/16 4/10
4th down conversions 4/6 0/0
Red Zone TD% 66.7 (2/3) 100.0 (2/2)
Net punting 42.4 35.8
Time of possession 32:38:00 27:22:00
TOP/offensive play 29.67 seconds 30.98 seconds
Penalties 2/20 yards 3/45 yards
1st down passing 0/1 3/5, 23 yards
3rd and long passing 0/5 1/1, 3 yards
4th down passing 1/2, 23 yards 0/0
1st down yards/play* 3.75 4.75
3rd down average yards to go 7.9 7.4

* These statistics do not include the final play of the first half, because it wasn’t a true drive/scoring attempt (although Lorenzo Ward came surprisingly close to turning it into one).

Those first five categories are the “Five Factors”, which I’ve written about before. This season, I’ll be tabulating them on a game-by-game basis (at least for SoCon matchups).

It is not easy to win games with an offensive Success Rate south of 30%. As a comparison, in 2016 the Bulldogs had a Success Rate in league play of 45.4%.

The lack of efficiency is reflected in the abysmal third down conversion rate and the Bulldogs’ yards per play numbers.

Wofford wasn’t much better, thanks to an extended run of stops by the Bulldogs that began midway through the second quarter and continued until the end of the third period. At one point, the Terriers ran 19 offensive plays, only one of which could have been considered successful.

The coaching staff should be credited with several excellent in-game adjustments, including a three-man front and a lot of shifting prior to the snap (which reminded me of what UNC did to the Bulldogs in Chapel Hill two seasons ago).

However, before then the Terriers had already created multiple “explosive” plays (two of which went for TDs). Wofford came close to doubling up the Bulldogs in yards per play.

Why was this game close, then? Well, turnovers had a lot to do with it, obviously, but The Citadel also had a significant edge in field position, thanks mostly to a fine display of punting by freshman Matthew Campbell.

In something of an ironic twist, arguably the only one of Campbell’s eight punts that wasn’t stellar ended up being his most beneficial, as the football bounced off an unsuspecting Terrier and into the grateful arms of Keyonte Sessions. That recovery set up the tying touchdown.

Random observations:

– Jordan Black was only 1 for 11 passing on Saturday night. That is a rough line, but many of those passes came in low-percentage situations:

  • Five of them came on 3rd down and eight yards or more
  • One was on 2nd-and-17 (and was dropped)
  • One was on 4th-and-4 (that was the completion)

Those were his first seven throws. All of them came in “passing down” situations.

Brent Thompson mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that in hindsight, he wished there had been more “shots down the field”. I’m assuming he meant throwing on first down, or perhaps in 2nd-and-short (or 3rd-and-short) situations, downs in which a pass wouldn’t be an obvious call.

I would also add that The Citadel shouldn’t wait to throw until the offense is in good field position. For example, I wouldn’t mind throwing down the field even while inside the Bulldogs’ own 30-yard line. Black has demonstrated in the past that he can throw the football with accuracy; I would like to see him get a chance to do so in better down-and-distance circumstances.

I’m not an advocate of throwing more often, but I do think The Citadel needs a higher percentage of its passes to come on “standard” downs, rather than passing downs. One way to do that, as I’ve mentioned before, is to have a more aggressive fourth-down mentality, which gives a playcaller more “wiggle room”.

– Speaking of fourth down, the Bulldogs were 4 for 6 converting those downs against Wofford. I agreed with all six decisions to go for it.

I actually think there should have been a seventh, late in the second quarter on 4th-and-4 from the Wofford 40-yard line. Thompson elected to punt, which struck me as a bit conservative.

However, that decision was ultimately rewarded by a questionable playcall from the Terriers. I am not sure why, up 21-0 late in the first half and getting the ball to start the third quarter, Wofford’s coaching staff thought passing from the Terriers’ own 14-yard line was a good idea.

Well, it was a good idea from Noah Dawkins’ point of view, anyway.

– Much of the teeth-gnashing in the stands on the visitors’ side came from watching the Bulldogs try to tackle. That has to improve against Chattanooga, and every game going forward.

– I didn’t have any major issues with the late-game time management decisions (and I can be a very tough grader in that area).

The way I look at it is this: The Citadel had not had a sustained offensive drive during the entire game prior to the last possession. The Bulldogs basically had to ham-and-egg their way down the field to even get a chance at a tying touchdown.

Given that, I am satisfied with four shots from the five-yard line, whatever it took to get there. The Citadel had to throw on the first three downs because of its lack of timeouts, but I couldn’t find any real fault with how the timeouts had been employed (maybe Thompson could have called the first one on the play before he wound up using it, but that was marginal).

I’ve seen suggestions that The Citadel could have run the ball towards the sideline and gone out of bounds if it didn’t result in a TD, but I’m dubious that would have worked, especially as Wofford would have likely anticipated a boundary rush.

The only down that a run was even close to a feasible percentage play was the last one, and even then you’re talking about five yards.

Hey, they had four tries. It just didn’t work out.

– That was probably the last time Miles Brown will play against The Citadel (unless the two teams meet again in the FCS playoffs). He has been one of the best opposition players the Bulldogs have faced in the last few years of SoCon action. Brown’s stats might be relatively modest (as is often the case for a nosetackle), but there is no doubting his impact on the game.

– I mentioned this on Twitter, but I wanted to reiterate how impressed I was with the Aron Spann fan club. That was quite a turnout.

I wish I had been more impressed with the P.A. announcer, who kept pronouncing Spann’s last name as “Spahn” for some reason. C’mon, he’s local and went to Dorman High School. You’ve got to get that right.

– Another thing Wofford needs to get right is its concessions situation. This was a significant problem two years ago when The Citadel played at Gibbs Stadium, and it was a problem again on Saturday.

Long lines snaked around the area behind the visitors’ stands, as fans waited in the heat to make their respective orders. Apparently, things were just as bad on the home side.

By this time, the folks running the gameday setup at Wofford have to know that The Citadel is going to bring a big crowd (game attendance: 8,930, which included a lot of folks clad in light blue).

– Internet fun…

I was highly amused to read one unhappy Wofford fan’s reaction to several hundred members of the Corps of Cadets making an appearance in Spartanburg:

I really wish Wofford had not allowed them to bring their entire corps of cadets up to the game…it’s supposed to be a home field advantage!

Another Terriers supporter pointed out that restricting access to fans (or cadets, I guess) might not be such a great idea, which drew this reaction from the outraged Wofford partisan:

Actually, I think limiting visiting fans access to a certain amount is a GREAT idea! We are a small school and don’t have a ton of fans. But we still want to keep a home field advantage for our team in home games. So limit the number of tickets for visiting fans, both paid and comp. It’s a space thing, our stadium capacity is not huge, we don’t have a lot of space, and we’d like to reserve a large percentage of that space for our Wofford fans…

You have to admit, limiting the number of opposing fans would probably solve the issues Wofford has with concessions. Could help with parking, too.

Let’s all agree not to tell him that only about one-fourth of the Corps was actually at the game, though.

(The real takeaway: the freshman cadets in the stands did a fine job supporting the team.)

– Next for the Bulldogs: the home opener, against Chattanooga. I’ll write something about that game later in the week.

The pictures are always bad. These, however, are particularly lousy (and are not annotated). I did not take many game shots after the first quarter, partly because my cellphone battery got a little low, and partly because the sun made taking pictures on the visitors’ side a challenge.

(Also: it was really hot. I got worn out just watching the game; I can’t imagine what it was like to actually play in it.)

I’ll try to do better next week on the photo front, but no one should get their hopes up.

 

2018 Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Wofford

Spartanburg, Sept. 18 [AP] — Showing a flashy passing game and ripping the Wofford line to shreds on running plays, The Citadel Bulldogs flattened the Wofford Terriers, 38-0, in the opening tilt of the 1937 season here this afternoon for both elevens.

…Kooksie Robinson, a hip-shaking ball of fire for the Cadets, was all over the field running and passing the ball with reckless abandon…

…Employing a tricky forward passing attack well mixed with line smashes, the Bulldogs rang up 29 first downs compared to only one for Wofford.

The Bulldogs gained 390 yards to 30 by Wofford by rushing. The Citadel attempted 12 forward passes and completed 5 for a total of 63 yards, as compared to no successful aerials for the Terriers, who tried two.

…Two thousand fans attended the game.

…Bulldog coaches have promised that this season their charges will really toss the ball around and that Charleston fans will see some of the hipper-dipper stuff which has raised the annual fall madness to a hysterical pitch.

-The News and Courier, September 19, 1937

The Citadel at Wofford, to be played to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on September 1, 2018.

The game will be televised by WYCW-62 (Spartanburg, SC), and streamed on ESPN+. Jason Patterson will handle play-by-play, while Toby Cates supplies the analysis.

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

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

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

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

Per The Citadel’s game notes:

Head Coach Brent Thompson joins “Voice of the Bulldogs” Luke Mauro for The Brent Thompson Radio Show each Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. at the Marina Variety Store. The show airs on ESPN Radio – 94.7 FM & 910 AM in Charleston.

At the time of this post, it was unclear whether or not the radio show would be simulcast on YouTube, as has been the case for the last three years.

A few of my recent posts revolving around The Citadel’s football program in general and the upcoming season in particular:

– Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

– Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

– A look at advanced statistics, first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

– Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Creating more big plays with an aggressive fourth-down philosophy

Links of interest:

– Season preview from The Post and Courier

– Preview of Saturday’s game from The Post and Courier

– STATS SoCon preview (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in the SoCon)

– Hero Sports’ preview of the Bulldogs (The Citadel is picked to finish 6th in the SoCon)

– Season preview from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– SoCon outlook from the Chattanooga Times Free Press

– SoConSports.com preview of the league (Part 1 and Part 2)

– Countdown to Kickoff: The Citadel (video featuring interviews of Brent Thompson, Jordan Black, and Aron Spann III)

– SoCon media and coaches’ preseason polls (The Citadel is picked to finish 7th in both polls)

– The Citadel: Quick Facts

The Citadel’s 2018 leadoff “Hype Video”

Wofford: Quick Facts

– Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

– SoCon weekly release

– FCS Coaches’ poll

– Profile of Jordan Black in The Post and Courier

– Brent Thompson has a conversation with Phil Kornblut (8/23) on SportsTalk; Kornblut also talks to Jordan Black and Aron Spann III

– Brent Thompson’s 8/28 press conference (video)

– Mike Capaccio is the new director of athletics at The Citadel

No warmup for Wofford

Countdown to Kickoff: Wofford (video featuring interviews of Josh Conklin, Miles Brown, and Andre Stoddard)

Wofford season preview in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal

It’s time for football!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

FOOTBALL!!!

For those fans attending the game on Saturday, keep in mind that the “clear bag” rule which has become the norm in many stadiums across the country will apply to Gibbs Stadium beginning this season:

Wofford College will institute a clear bag policy for all events at Gibbs Stadium and Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium starting with Wofford’s home opening game against The Citadel on September 1.

The policy will help enhance existing security measures and ensure a safe environment for all guests while making for a quicker entry into the venues. The policy will be in effect for all Wofford athletic contests as well as special events…

…Fans will be permitted to enter with a clear bag that does not exceed 12″ in height by 6″ in depth by 12″ in width. A simple one-gallon clear plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag or similar, is acceptable.

Fans will be allowed to carry in a small clutch bag, approximately the size of a hand or 4.5″ by 6.5″, with or without a handle or strap.

An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at the game.

For the first two home football games, Wofford will be providing 1,500 free clear bags thanks to Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System’s Sports Medicine Institute. These bags will be available at all gates, as well as at the entrances to parking lots.

Also not to be ignored: an updated Wofford campus parking map.

Saturday’s game is being promoted by Wofford as “Blackout the Bulldogs”. Fans of the Terriers are being encouraged to wear black. Other promotions for the game: schedule magnets, posters, and a $10,000 drawing.

It will be interesting to see how black contrasts with large quantities of light blue and white. The Citadel should (as usual) bring a sizable contingent of fans.

Also making an appearance: 600 freshmen from the Corps of Cadets. Don’t be surprised if quite a few upperclassmen make the trip to Spartanburg as well.

At the beginning of this post, I included an excerpt from a game story of the 1937 matchup between The Citadel and Wofford in Spartanburg, the season opener for both schools that year. That 1937 season turned out to be a good one for the Bulldogs, with Tatum Gressette’s squad finishing 7-4.

(It would have been 8-3 if not for the cheatin’ refs in Orangeburg, as the Man in the Brown Suit would say.)

The Citadel also picked up wins over Furman and Richmond during that 1937 campaign, along with a 46-7 thumping of Erskine in Charleston.

Erskine discontinued its football program 14 years later, following the 1951 season. Last week, however, the school announced that the Flying Fleet would return to the gridiron in time for the 2020 campaign.

Wofford was 2-7 in 1937, with wins over Newberry and Presbyterian, both at home. The Terriers’ other game in Spartanburg that season resulted in a loss to Oglethorpe. One must always be wary of the Stormy Petrels, as they do not know how to give up.

Last year, The Citadel and Mercer were the only two league teams that had instant replay review capability. This season, three more schools (Furman, Western Carolina, and Samford) will employ the technology.

That leaves four SoCon schools still without it: Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, VMI, and Wofford.

Allegedly, all league schools will be required to have instant replay review by 2019. Whether or not that actually happens won’t be known until next year, of course.

At any rate, Saturday’s game will be one of just two league contests this season played by The Citadel in which instant replay review won’t be used (the Bulldogs’ game at VMI is the other).

Fans of the Bulldogs will understandably be concerned about the lack of replay review, given the game’s location and the state of the SoCon’s officiating. There is nothing that can be done about it, however. The league office is apparently satisfied with the current state of affairs, in which conference matchups are contested under two sets of rules, depending on where the game is played.

Wofford has an unusual dilemma right now: The Jerry Richardson Problem.

After Sports Illustrated reported last December that the Carolina Panthers owner had made monetary settlements to multiple individuals due to “inappropriate” workplace conduct by Richardson (including sexually suggestive behavior and a racial slur), things went downhill fast for the founder of the franchise. He received a $2.75 million fine from the NFL, and was basically forced to sell the club.

Richardson’s impact on his alma mater has been enormous, which has raised questions about what (if anything) the school plans to do in response to the developments of the past nine months. It’s a tough situation; after all, just this past winter Wofford’s alumni magazine headlined a laudatory story about the school’s well-known benefactor “The Remarkable Jerry Richardson”, with a now-unconvincing subtitle: “And the core values that led to the new Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium”.

Would Wofford consider changing the name of its new basketball arena, or its physical activities center? Will the statue of Richardson that was installed on campus just a few years ago be removed?

Don’t count on it.

Spartanburg-based Wofford College, where Richardson is an alumnus and former trustee member, also has an indoor stadium and physical activities building named after him.

Wofford did not answer questions about whether buildings will keep bearing Richardson’s name.

“Mr. Richardson’s contributions to Wofford College are extraordinary, and for that we are grateful,” spokeswoman Laura Corbin said in a statement. “It is not appropriate for us to comment further.”

I saw an online comment from a Wofford fan that “without [Richardson] we are Presbyterian and getting ready to play Division III football”, which probably sums up the feelings of many of the Terriers’ gridiron supporters.

The powers-that-be at Wofford also have to be mindful of what Richardson could potentially leave the college in his will.

A side issue (but a very important one) related to the Richardson saga is the status of Wofford as the host of the Panthers’ training camp. Could the team move its camp elsewhere in the near future?

Richard Johnson, the school’s director of athletics and inarguably Wofford’s most well-educated administrator, had this to say earlier in the summer:

“The trend is not to go off to camp anymore,” Johnson said. “We’re one of the few places that still hosts camps (away from NFL cities). That’s clearly the trend. What does that do to us? It’s too early to tell. We haven’t had those conversations.”

Johnson said the Panthers’ impact on the Upstate has been “immeasurable,” and he said that there aren’t many places like Spartanburg and Wofford that would have been able to build facilities fit for a professional football team, an hour’s drive from an NFL city.

“We thought it was kind of the perfect symmetry and everything kind of came together for us,” Johnson said. “But times change and interests change and needs change. We’re going to continue to do what we can to be helpful and to provide facilities and service that suits them for as long as they need us to. If it’s not any more, well, we’ve had a great run and we’re very appreciative and it’s been wonderful.”

Wofford has a new play-by-play voice for football, Jim Noble, after longtime radio man Mark Hauser could not come to a contractual agreement with the school. This development was a bit unsettling to a portion of the Terriers’ fanbase, particularly when combined with the departure of much of the football coaching staff (though the latter situation was a more natural occurrence with a new head coach on the scene).

Hauser, who is paid through IMG College…informed the company that he could no longer continue as play-by-play announcer for the same compensation as years past. He said his disappointment, however, is actually with the school.

…“It comes down to whether Wofford wanted to take out any more money from its budget [said Hauser]. In the end, for me, it’s Wofford’s call.”

Hauser said there was no discussion. Nobody even asked how much more money he wanted.

“That’s the most disappointing thing,” he said. “At no point did anyone ever say, ‘Well, what would it take? What are you looking for?’ They didn’t ask if I wanted $5 more a game or $50 or $100. I might have shocked them. But it never even got off the ground for a negotiation. After this many years, I feel like I should’ve gotten a phone call from somebody to at least talk about it.”

…Sports information director Brent Williamson said the school would be interested in bringing Hauser back “if he wants to work for what he worked for last year.”

Hauser began doing Wofford football games in 1992 and became an honorary letterman in the athletics department’s hall of fame in 2000.

That quote from Williamson sounds a bit abrupt, so it is only fair to note the SID also said of Hauser’s time with the school, “It was an unbelievable relationship. We’re definitely going to miss him and we know our fans are going to miss him.”

The Terriers’ audio broadcasts are online-only. I don’t know if that was a factor in Wofford’s evaluation of Hauser’s value, but Wofford does not have a radio network, and (unlike The Citadel) does not even have a station in the Greenville-Spartanburg area carrying its football games at the present time.

Wofford did use its radio broadcast team to provide the audio for its home ESPN3 games in the past. I’m not sure if that will be true going forward; it will not be the case on Saturday.

Saturday’s game will be on ESPN+ and WYCW-62, a local TV station in Spartanburg. All of Wofford’s home games except one, the matchup with East Tennessee State, will be carried by WYCW and either ESPN+ or ESPN3; the contest against the Buccaneers will be on ESPN+ but not WYCW.

Josh Conklin is the new head coach at Wofford. He replaces Mike Ayers, who retired after 30 seasons as the Terriers’ head man.

Conklin, who turned 39 years old in June, is a Wyoming native who graduated from Dakota State. He then began his coaching career at South Dakota State (no, not the same school). After several years there, he moved to Wofford for three years, then The Citadel for two seasons (serving as the defensive coordinator under Kevin Higgins).

He spent one year at Tennessee and two seasons at FIU before becoming the defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, where he stayed for three years before taking the Wofford job.

Conklin’s brother-in-law, Al Clark III, and father-in-law, Al Clark Jr., both played football at Wofford. Each is well connected to the school, with the younger Clark a former official with the Terrier Club and a onetime assistant director of athletics, while his father is a longtime associate of Wofford trustee Jimmy I. Gibbs (for whose family the Terriers’ football stadium is named).

Also worth mentioning:  Conklin extolled the virtues of Mexican food in a Chattanooga newspaper article, specifically name-checking two local restaurants. I was dubious at first (Tex-Mex in Spartanburg?), but I’ve subsequently been informed by an unquestioned authority that ‘Willy Taco’ is legit, so there you go.

The coaching staff underwent a major makeover after Conklin got the job, though longtime assistant Wade Lang (31 years at Wofford) remains on board, also retaining his title as offensive coordinator. Other than Lang and tight ends coach B.J. Connelly, it is a fairly young staff, though Conklin also kept wide receivers coach Freddie Brown (who has been at the school for eight seasons).

While relatively youthful, it appears to be a group with some promise, though by far the most impressive résumé on the staff clearly belongs to equipment manager VanDyke Jones II.

The primary football-related issue that people are talking about with regards to Conklin:  will he change the Terriers’ offense? Is Wofford about to become a team that throws the ball all over the lot? Are the days of the triple option over in Spartanburg?

Well, probably not — at least, not right away.

That said, Wofford worked in the spring on diversifying its offense via the pass:

…the difference [from previous spring scrimmages] was that many of these passes were called at the line of scrimmage by quarterbacks Joe Newman and Miller Mosley.

“They’ve been working on their RPOs (read/pass options),” [Josh] Conklin said. “I was really pleased.”

…“I think we just have to have the ability to throw the ball,” Conklin said. “And I’m not talking down-the-field, vertical passing game. I’m talking about things that the defense is going to give because of what we do schematically as far as running the ball. They have to commit nine guys to the run. That allows us to attack the flats and do some other things.

“We need to get into second-and-5, third-and-2. Those are hard for the defense, especially when we can run the ball like we do.”

Conklin further explained his offensive philosophy in a conversation with Chattanooga sportswriter Gene Henley:

Part of who Conklin ultimately will be is a coach who adjusts the option offense the Terriers have run for decades, although it doesn’t sound like he’ll be opening it up too much. Wofford hasn’t thrown 20 passes in a game for 10 seasons, but the new leader would like to see the Terriers eventually get to “20-25 attempts” a game.

“We’re going to incorporate some run-pass option on offense,” Conklin said. “When you look at how people have defended us offensively, you have to be able to throw the ball a little more vertically and relieve some pressure off the run game.”

A few links to articles from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal on Wofford’s preseason practices:

2017 FCS national rankings (all games) in select categories for The Citadel and Wofford:

The Citadel Wofford
Scoring offense 75 54
Scoring defense 64 36
Avg rush/play – offense 18 21
Avg rush/play – defense 94 33
Avg yards/pass attempt – offense 39 11
Avg yards/pass attempt – defense 103 47
Yards per play – offense 55 48
Yards per play – defense 102 35
Tackles for loss rate – defense 20 88
Turnover margin 48T 32
Penalty yards per game 6 21
Net punt average 60 30
Time of possession/game 1 39
3rd down conversion rate – offense 24 8
3rd down conversion rate – defense 42 112
Red Zone TD rate – offense 90 16
Red Zone TD rate – defense 117 72

There was a competition to be the starting quarterback at Wofford this season. That appears to have been decided, however (even though the two-deep for the Terriers lists two potential starters at the position).

Joe Newman, a 5’11”, 181 lb. junior from Riverdale, Georgia, is a dynamic athlete capable of making big plays. He proved that during the 2016 playoffs in games against The Citadel and Youngstown State, appearing in relief in both of those contests, and scoring touchdowns in each game.

Frankly, I was surprised he wasn’t employed more often by the Terriers last season. It is hard to argue with the team’s results, of course, but Newman brings something to the table that Wofford hasn’t always had, a true breakaway threat at quarterback.

He is considered much more of a runner than a passer (for his career, he is 10 for 26 passing, with 2 interceptions). If he is going to get most of the snaps under center, it is hard to see Wofford going into passing mode much more often than it has in the past. Of course, he may have improved his skills in that area.

Andre Stoddard, Wofford’s starting fullback, received first-team All-SoCon honors last season after rushing for 825 yards and 15 touchdowns. One of the few league games in which the 5’10”, 240 lb. senior from Greenville didn’t excel came against The Citadel; Stoddard did rush for a score, but was held to ten yards on eight carries.

The Terriers have two halfbacks who can make big plays. Lennox McAfee (5’7″, 175 lbs.), a senior from Nashville, averaged 7.5 yards per rush last season. McAfee can catch the football out of the backfield, as can 5’9″, 190 lb. speedster Blake Morgan. The native of Florida caught 22 passes last season, including three against The Citadel. Morgan averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

While listed as a backup on the depth chart, Jason Hill (5’11”, 195 lbs.) is someone to watch when it comes to long gainers. Last season, the junior from Spartanburg caught two TD passes — a 59-yarder against The Citadel, and a 75-yard catch versus Presbyterian. The player who threw him the football against PC? Lennox McAfee.

Average size of Wofford’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’3″, 292 lbs. That is in line with the average size of the Terriers’ starters on the o-line in previous seasons (6’3″, 297 lbs. in 2017; 6’3″, 296 lbs. in 2016).

Left tackle Michael Ralph (6’4″, 290 lbs.) is a preseason first-team all-conference pick. The junior from Ohio started all 13 games for the Terriers last season at right tackle.

Justus Basinger (6’4″, 305 lbs.) started all 13 games for Wofford last season at right guard, and the junior from Longwood, Florida is expected to do the same this year. Basinger is a preseason second-team all-SoCon choice on the offensive line; admittedly, no fewer than eight guys are preseason second-team all-league selections on the o-line, but he is a fine player regardless.

Wofford’s defense is keyed by its defensive line, which is both enormous and very effective.

Miles Brown, the Terriers’ 6’2″, 320 lb. nosetackle, is probably the best player on Wofford’s roster, and one of the better players in the SoCon. In a league with several truly exceptional defensive linemen, Brown is a standout.

The senior from Maryland has started on the d-line for the Terriers since his freshman campaign.

Brown’s primary tag-team partner on the defensive line is 6’1″, 300 lb. Mikel Horton. While he missed some time last season (appearing in only eight games), the native of Kentucky made an impact when on the field. Horton, a junior, was a second team all-league pick last year.

Wofford has shifted some players around on the defensive line and at linebacker. One player staying in place is inside linebacker Datavious (DT) Wilson (6’1″, 225 lbs.), a tackling machine from Hartsville. The junior was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

The Terriers have an experienced secondary. Devin Watson, a 5’11”, 190 lb. senior cornerback, was a first-team all-league choice last season after making 55 tackles and intercepting four passes.

Mason Alstatt (6’0″, 210 lbs.), a junior safety from Kentucky, was a preseason second-team all-conference choice. Alstatt was the second-leading tackler on the team last year (with 76 stops).

Luke Carter (6’1″, 215 lbs.) was the all-SoCon placekicker in 2017 after finishing the season 11 for 12 on field goal tries, with a long of 44 yards, and not missing a PAT all year (41 for 41). Carter also served as the Terriers’ punter, and the junior from Florence will handle both roles for Wofford again this season (in addition to being the kickoff specialist).

Miller Mosley (5’11”, 185 lbs.) is the Terriers’ holder on placements, and (as seen above) he also may be in the game at quarterback at times. The sophomore from Alabama is obviously someone who has to be accounted for when it comes to possible fake field goal attempts.

As has been the case for the last three seasons, Ross Hammond (6’1″, 230 lbs.) is Wofford’s long snapper. Hammond is a third-generation college football player.

Lennox McAfee will be Wofford’s primary punt returner and will also be on the kickoff return team, as will starting free safety JoJo Tillery (6’2″, 210 lbs.). While McAfee is the primary threat on both return units, Tillery is a good athlete with a fair amount of speed. He has only one career kick return, however.

Odds and ends:

– Wofford, perhaps inspired by The Bronze Bulldog, has a new on-campus sculpture, one probably safe from controversy. It is a bronze rendition of a Boston Terrier.

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Spartanburg, per the National Weather Service: a 40% chance of showers during the day and into the evening. It is expected to be partly sunny, with a high near 88 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is about 70 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 10-point underdog at Wofford, with an over/under of 48.

That is easily the biggest spread for this particular matchup in several years. The over/under is slightly higher than has been the norm in recent seasons.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: On Thursday night, Chattanooga is a 13.5-point favorite over Tennessee Tech, while Samford is favored over Shorter by 45.5 points.

Saturday, Western Carolina is a 21.5-point favorite over Newberry; VMI is a 46-point underdog at Toledo; Mercer is a 26-point underdog at Memphis; and Furman is a 48.5-point underdog at Clemson.

There was no readily available line for the Mars Hill-East Tennessee State game.

Also of note: Towson is a 23-point favorite at Morgan State; Charleston Southern is a 39.5-point underdog at Florida; and Alabama is a 25-point favorite over Louisville in Orlando.

Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 57th in FCS as of August 27 (the Bulldogs moved up 3 spots following Week 0 action). Wofford is ranked 33rd.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 21% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Wofford 27, The Citadel 17.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey (as of August 27): Kennesaw State (19th), Samford (25th), Yale (28th), Furman (29th), Elon (35th), Mercer (39th), Towson (40th), Colgate (41st), Western Carolina (45th), UT Martin (55th), Charleston Southern (56th), Chattanooga (58th), East Tennessee State (81st), Gardner-Webb (84th), Tennessee Tech (92nd), South Carolina State (93rd), Presbyterian (95th), VMI (113th), Davidson (124th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads to begin the 2018 campaign: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Weber State, and Western Illinois.

In case you were wondering about Massey’s preseason rankings of certain squads that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the top ten (in order) in the FBS standings as of August 27: Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Wisconsin, Auburn, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma State. Florida State is 25th, South Carolina 33rd, Memphis 42nd, Navy 51st, North Carolina 57th, Army 65th, Appalachian State 67th, Wyoming 72nd, Tennessee 73rd, Toledo 74th, Air Force 89th, Old Dominion 117th, Coastal Carolina 121st, Georgia Southern 122nd, Charlotte 124th, Liberty 129th, and Jim Senter’s UTEP 130th and last.

– Wofford’s roster includes 35 players from South Carolina. Other states represented on its roster: Georgia (14 players), Florida (9), North Carolina (8), Ohio (8), Tennessee (8), Kentucky (4), Maryland (3), Virginia (2), and one each from Alabama, Maine, and New Jersey. Ronnie Brooks, a junior offensive lineman listed on the Terriers’ two-deep, is from Washington, DC (and attended Maret School, where the head basketball coach is one Chuck Driesell).

Oddly, none of Wofford’s 35 players from the Palmetto State are graduates of traditional pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While former coach Mike Ayers is said to have retired on his own terms, the possibility remains that the coach was gently but firmly “pushed out” due to his failure to recruit gridiron mainstays from the famed Maroon and Orange.

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

Music matters at The Citadel’s practices. Surprisingly and disappointingly, though, neither Alison Krauss nor Ella Fitzgerald are featured.

– The Citadel’s game notes state that the “Block C” on the helmets is back for the 2018 season! This is very good news indeed.

It is the opening game of the 2018 campaign, and the level of excitement is high. I think the level of uncertainty is a little bit on the high side, too.

I could write a lot of sentences about my expectations for the opener, but to be honest, I’m not completely sure what my expectations are.

(Also, I’ve written way too many sentences in this post already.)

I guess the bottom line is that I think the Bulldogs are going to be good this season. How good, I don’t know.

We’ll begin to find out on Saturday.

Can’t wait…

Creating more big plays with an aggressive 4th down philosophy

Two aging raconteurs are seated at a table in a local restaurant. One is sipping a Westbrook IPA while checking his smartphone. The other looks up from a copy of Street & Smith’s college football annual, drains his bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, and speaks:

“What are you reading now, Beemo? I swear you’re glued to that thing, gotta look up and smell the roses once in a while.”

“There are no roses around here. Besides, I was just checking to see if anything was happening. That Sports Arsenal dude just posted again.”

His companion snorts. “That dork? What, more statistics? Somebody needs to tell him football is about HITTING people and makin’ them stay hit.”

Beemo takes another sip from his glass. “I know, J.B., I know. He’s gotta get his head outta these numbers. They don’t mean nothing. Still, sometimes it’s kind of interesting. Did you know-“

J.B. is having none of it. “Forget that nonsense. You can do anything with stats. Bobby Knight once said that these goofs use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost, for support rather than elimination.”

“You mean illumination,” Beemo corrects mildly.

“I meant what I said, whatever that was. Anyways, has anybody called in with a practice report? I heard through the grapevine that the backup QB looks good.”

“Haven’t heard anything from practice other than the official reports and Hartsell’s stories. Kinda quiet. Nobody ever seems to have any juicy info this time of year.”

“It’s frustrating,” grumbles J.B. “I like those videos they put out on the Twitter, but that’s not telling me who’s gonna be on the two-deep for the opener.”

Beemo glances up from a menu and sighs. “Nobody in our crew ever seems to be at practice.”

After looking at his empty bottle, J.B. scowls, and then signals the waiter. “You’d think Fast Willie would let us know what’s up once in a while. Guess he’s too busy with his kids. Don’t know why, they’ll always be around.”

“That’s why I’m reading this Sports Arsenal stuff. It’s not much, though.”

J.B. nods his head, a sad look on his face. “Yeah. So what’s he going on about now?”

In August of 2017, SBNation college football statistics guru Bill Connelly wrote about how he had changed his mind about big plays, at least in terms of their essential genesis within a football game (my phrasing, not his). It was a very instructive dissection of something that is more random than has often been assumed.

Now, big plays are obviously very important. Connelly opined that “big plays are probably the single most important factor to winning football games”, and it is hard to argue with that notion. I happen to agree with it myself.

Connelly also noted that while long drives could be demoralizing, a defense that prevented big plays while allowing smaller gains could succeed because of the difficulty in maintaining a long drive without making a mistake.

However, he now has a slightly different perspective, one which may or may not seem intuitive:

…[S]uccess rate changes pretty dramatically based on down and distance. Aside from third-and-1, though, big play rates barely change at all…

…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.

…Efficiency is everything in [college football]. Explosiveness is too random to rely on without efficiency.

I’ve bolded and italicized the key sentence.

Let’s think about this from The Citadel’s point of view.

Staying on the field hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs’ offense over the last couple of seasons. In 2016, The Citadel finished second nationally in FCS in time of possession; last season, the Bulldogs were the national leader in the category.

Offensive efficiency, though, was generally lacking in 2017. A quick glance at The Citadel’s third-down conversion rate in SoCon play (38.7%, after being at or above 50% the previous two seasons) tells a less-than-excellent story.

The advanced stats do so as well. After a Success Rate of 45.4% in 2016 league action, The Citadel slipped to a 39.0% rate last year. While FCS numbers are not readily available for Success Rate, 39.0% would be slightly below average in FBS (South Carolina, the median FBS team in the category, had an offensive Success Rate of 41.8% last year).

Holding the ball has its advantages, of course. It tends to tire out the opposing defense, and keeps the Bulldogs’ D relatively fresh. Also, if the defense isn’t on the field, it can’t give up points.

That said, The Citadel has to do more on offense than simply maintain possession. It has to score points. Most of the Bulldogs’ problems in that area last season can be traced to abysmal Red Zone offense, but that in itself is a product of inefficiency.

The Citadel simply must produce more successful plays. If it does so, the chances of creating more “big plays” will increase.

They won’t increase with a predictable progression. As noted, big plays appear to be largely random. There will inevitably be more of them, however — and the more big plays The Citadel has on offense, the more likely the Bulldogs will have a successful 2018 campaign.

How can The Citadel increase its percentage of successful offensive plays? First, let’s define what constitutes a successful play (besides a touchdown):

  • A play that results in a first down
  • A play that increases the chances of picking up a first down on the next play

That’s basically it.

Essentially, the Bulldogs want to move the chains. Keeping the chains moving means more plays, which means more chances for successful plays, which means more chances that one of those successful plays will turn into a big play.

First downs are successful plays, so the more of them, the better. Earlier, I referenced third down conversion rate. Success on third down matters.

However, it’s also possible to pick up the necessary yardage to keep a drive alive on first down, and on second down…and on fourth down.

I believe fourth down is underutilized in college football. Too many times, a team punts when going for it is the proper call.

It goes deeper than that, though. The best way to approach most offensive possessions, especially those that begin less than 70 yards from the end zone, is to assume that the offense is already in “four-down territory”.

Doing so means a team can be more creative with offensive playcalling. For a team like The Citadel, that can really open up the playbook.

Last year, 44.4% of The Citadel’s pass plays came on “passing downs” — in other words, in down-and-distance situations in which the opponent could anticipate a potential throw. The Bulldogs only had a Success Rate of 18.2% when throwing on passing downs (as I noted in my “advanced stats” post from last month).

I don’t think The Citadel necessarily needs to throw more often in its triple option offense; 8 to 12 pass plays per game strikes me as a fairly reasonable range. However, the Bulldogs have to make those pass plays count.

One way to do that is to have a higher percentage of The Citadel’s pass plays occur on “standard downs”, i.e. when the opponent is less likely to be thinking about a potential throw.

By incorporating a more aggressive “go for it” plan of attack, The Citadel could throw more often on those standard downs — on first down, for example, or on 2nd-and-medium plays between the 40s, or even on 3rd-and-short inside the 50-yard line.

It is easier to risk a throw on 2nd-and-5 from your own 47-yard line if you know that, even if it is incomplete, you still have two potential plays to pick up the first down, rather than just one.

Also, surprising a defense with a pass is a great way to create a big play.

If you’re a fan, I bet you’ve watched a lot of games where this scenario happens: the team you’re rooting for is on defense, and the opponent comes up short on third down. It’s 4th-and-1 around midfield, and they line up to punt — and you think to yourself, “Phew. Let them punt. Glad they didn’t go for it.”

I know I have.

Well, I would like The Citadel to be on the other side of that situation, and then flip it. My preference would be for the opposing team’s players (and fans) to think they’ve made a stop on third down, only to see the Bulldogs’ offense stay on the field. As a collective, the response from the opponents may often be “Uh-oh”.

Now, this might take some preseason psychological preparation, not just for the offense, but for the Bulldogs’ D. Every now and then, The Citadel won’t pick up the first down, and the defense will have to go out and defend a shorter field. It has to be ready for that, and accept it as a challenge.

Clearly, going for it on more 4th down tries is not a new concept. It is just one that has not been employed too often, or effectively. However, some coaches seem to be catching up. Advanced statistical analysis in college football has already made an impact.

Tulane head coach Willie Fritz is a solid example of this. Fritz is a very good coach, but he wants to be an even better one, as this AP article from last year suggests:

Fritz was head coach at Georgia Southern when the Eagles took a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter of their 2014 opener against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack rallied to win 24-23 after Fritz made a fourth-down decision — a gut call he is still kicking himself about.

Fritz is no longer interested in following his gut.

“That may be the hot dog I had before the game,” Fritz said. “I want facts and numbers.”

He is now getting those facts and numbers from a firm specializing in statistical analysis for college football, one that has over 50 Division I clients (including several FCS schools, with about half of the Ivy and Patriot League programs on board). Fourth down situations are just a small part of the analytical services on offer, but that part of the game is certainly a major focus (as this 2016 company newsletter attests).

At least two “pure” triple option teams, Georgia Southern and Army, are or have been clients.

Before I get into 4th-down go-for-it specifics, one thing should be noted.

Generally speaking, in the first three quarters of a football game, a coach should make decisions that maximize his team’s total points scored. In the fourth quarter, however, a coach should instead maximize his team’s win probability, which is a distinct difference.

In other words, a team’s standard 4th-down chart changes as the end of the game draws closer, and the number of possessions shrink. The coach has to take into consideration the time and score of game, the number of potential drives remaining, and sometimes even whether or not his team is an underdog.

For a program like The Citadel, which generally has lower-possession games, it is possible that the win probability cutoff point shouldn’t be the beginning of the fourth quarter, but rather the 5:00 mark of the third quarter. Even that is arbitrary, of course.

When faced with a fourth down, in what down-and-distance situations should The Citadel go for a first down?

If you are a college football fan, you’ve probably seen a 4th-down “when to go” chart somewhere on the internet. Maybe more than one.

However, every program is different. What is the right call for one may not be for another.

That’s why I decided to create a 4th-down chart specifically for The Citadel. The chart is based on certain statistics compiled by the Bulldogs over the last two seasons in SoCon play.

Some of the components included are:

  • 3rd down and 4th down conversion rates for each additional yard to gain (for example, in the last two years The Citadel has had a 78.7% success rate on 3rd/4th and 1; 62.5% on 3rd/4th and 2; 53.3% on 3rd/4th and 3, etc.)
  • Net punting for the Bulldogs in 2016/17 (in order to determine where the other team would likely get the ball if The Citadel punted)
  • Expected points for each yard line on the field (based on a chart from Bill Connelly’s book, Study Hall)

Here it is, in all its glory:

4th down decision chart

A few explanations:

– There are six colors represented on the chart. Three of them are self-explanatory — green (go for it), yellow (field goal attempt), and red (punt).

– Another color, light green, indicates an area where the coach has to decide whether to go for it or attempt a field goal. This is dependent on game conditions, ability of the kicker, etc.

One of the more difficult aspects of creating this chart was determining the field goal parameters. Ultimately, I decided to base them on a field goal kicker (or unit, to be precise) with average accuracy and a realistic distance capability limit of 52 yards. I realize that may not strike everyone as perfect; feel free to adjust accordingly.

– You may notice that, when faced with a 4th down and either 1 or 2 yards to go, the coach should always go for it when within 58 yards of the goal line (i.e. the team’s own 42-yard line). That includes 4th-and-short situations inside the 5-yard line.

Remember, the goal is to score as many points as possible on each drive. Touchdowns are valuable enough that going for it near the goal line is almost always the percentage play, rather than kicking a field goal, because even if the team doesn’t convert, the opponent is usually stuck with terrible field position.

One exception to this: near the end of the first half, the field goal try becomes a more viable option inside the red zone, as bad field position for the opponent is no longer a factor (because the half is about to end anyway).

– Per this chart, in most circumstances the Bulldogs should either go for it or attempt a field goal when in opposing territory on any 4th down of 5 yards or less to go. That includes 4th-and-5 from the 50.

– There are two other color areas on the chart to discuss. One (light blue) is a section I am calling “General’s Choice”, after, naturally, General.

This is a section in which the Bulldogs’ two-year statistics tend to suggest that punting is probably the percentage play. However, the sample size is limited, and some of the available stats indicate that going for it may not be unreasonable.

Basically, if Brent Thompson decided to take a relatively aggressive approach, going for it in this area of the field on certain downs may be the right move.

– Then there is the gray section that I am calling “Boo Territory”, after the seemingly more hyper and aggressive of the school’s two mascots.

Most of the time, punting is the play in this section. Nonetheless, you can find a lot of analytical sources that would advocate going for it in this area.

The Citadel’s statistical profile doesn’t reflect that, which is why the section isn’t green (or even light blue). If Brent Thompson really wanted to make a statement during a game, though, he would go for it in Boo Territory (or maybe fake a punt).

Obviously, a chart like this would vary at least slightly for each game. Among the factors to consider in making adjustments to it: whether or not the team is playing at home, weather conditions, the opponent’s efficiency on offense and defense, its special teams units (both placekicking and punting), and its pace of play.

As you can probably tell, I’m ready for football season. It’s getting closer…

Other things I’ve written in the lead-up to the season:

– Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

– Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

– A look at advanced statistics, first down/third down information, and standard/passing down data

– Last year’s conference-only statistics for the SoCon (all teams), with some additional league observations

– Preseason rankings and ratings

– Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: the annual review

– Which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

– A glance at the SoCon non-conference slate

Last but probably not least on the list of links: an interactive chart showing the percentage of time every FBS team has gone for it on 4th down (2009-2017)

 

League-only statistics from the 2017 SoCon football season, with assorted observations

League links of interest:

– Keeper’s College Football Ratings “Starters and Stats Lost” spreadsheet has been updated

– Hero Sports’ previews for The Citadel, Chattanooga, East Tennessee StateFurman, Mercer, and Samford (with more to come)

– The College Sports Journal’s preview for VMI, Chattanooga, ETSU, The Citadel, and Western Carolina (with more to come)

– Conference preview from “SoCon John”: Link

– Local columnist from Macon says Mercer is playoff-bound

– Terrell Owens is going to celebrate his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Chattanooga instead of Canton

– East Tennessee State signs 10-year marketing/sponsorship/media sales agreement that could be worth up to $15 million

My analysis (such as it is) of the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

While compiling information for my posts about The Citadel’s 2017 football statistics, I wound up with a spreadsheet that included stats for all the SoCon teams (league games only). I decided that it wouldn’t hurt anybody if I made an additional, SoCon-related post centered around that spreadsheet, with some random thoughts and observations.

Anyway, here it is:

2017 SoCon football statistics

As mentioned, these are conference-only stats for the nine league football teams. I got them from the SoCon’s own website, as this year the conference posted league-only numbers very early in the off-season. For that, I’m grateful.

All I’ve done here is put them on a Google spreadsheet, which was not exactly heavy lifting. I have added a few different categories for offense and defense (and one for the kicking game). There are also tabs for things like attendance, game length, and the coin toss, which I gathered myself (not that it was too hard).

I tried to make it as easy to read as possible, though I’m not sure I completely succeeded in doing so.

Below are a few comments, mostly arbitrary (but not capricious).

When it came to the coin toss, most of the squads in the league were ready to defer at a moment’s notice.

I mean that literally. Seven of the nine conference teams, on winning the coin toss in a SoCon game, always chose to defer the option to the second half.

As I’ve written before, there is no question that the rise in teams deferring the option can be traced to the influence of Bill Belichick:

Among the many changes to the sport Bill Belichick has generated has been the growing trend of teams deferring after winning the opening coin toss. Gone are the days when teams licked their lips at the chance of opening the game with a scoring drive to take an early lead, as the option to delay that chosen possession until the start of the second half has increasingly become in vogue.

That’s in large part due to the way Belichick and Tom Brady have worked to flip games upside-down by scoring on the final possession of the first half and then scoring on the opening possession of the second half — the “dreaded double score,” as it’s come to be known by every broadcaster. If you can pull it off, it’s effective, and so many opposing coaches have opted to defer when they win the opening coin toss — especially when facing the Patriots.

Of course, you have to be careful that your team captains know what to tell the official after winning the coin toss in case you want to try something different, as Belichick himself learned a couple of years ago.

You also have to make sure they know what to do if the other team wins the coin toss, as Texas found out in 2014:

Texas defensive tackle Desmond Jackson apologized for his role in bungling the coin toss in the Longhorns’ loss to UCLA on Saturday.

UCLA won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half. That meant Texas would have the option of choosing to kick or receive to start the first half. The Longhorns chose to kick, allowing UCLA to choose to start the second half with the ball.

Thus, UCLA received to open both halves, essentially gaining a free possession. That was a big deal, as the Bruins wound up winning the game by three points, 20-17.

Back in the SoCon, Western Carolina and VMI were the league rebels, with both teams electing to receive when winning the coin toss (which each did three times last season).

What I found curious is that they didn’t always do so in non-conference games.

Western Carolina won the coin toss in both of its first two games, against Hawai’i and Davidson, and deferred the option each time. By the time the Catamounts played North Carolina at the end of the season, however, WCU was ready to go on offense, electing to receive in that game.

VMI also deferred after winning the coin toss in its season opener, against Air Force. I was unable to determine the coin toss winner for VMI-Robert Morris, though I suspect the Colonials won and took the ball.

The Citadel won the toss in its first game of the season, versus Newberry, and elected to receive. That is the only other non-conference game from last year that I found in which a SoCon team didn’t follow its standard defer-or-receive decision-making process.

One thing I was curious about with regards to game length was whether or not instant replay review had an appreciable effect on time.

Last season, Mercer and The Citadel were the only two schools to have review capability. The fact the SoCon is playing conference games under two different sets of rules is beyond annoying, but that’s not my focus here. I’m just evaluating the length of the games.

The Citadel’s away games took on average 2:55 to play. When the Bulldogs played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with instant replay review, contests took on average 3:06 to complete.

As for Mercer, it had an average home game time of 3:18. The average length for the Bears’ three non-JHS road games was 2:59 (and one of those games, against ETSU, went to overtime).

In terms of time, the games at Five Star Stadium were the longest conference road contests played by VMI, Wofford, and Chattanooga. Also, the second-longest SoCon road games for VMI and Wofford were their respective matchups at The Citadel.

Samford’s game at Mercer was the Birmingham squad’s second-longest league away matchup, in part because SU’s longest road game, at Western Carolina, was delayed in the fourth quarter by lightning.

The differential is rather striking. The league might claim that replay review has little to do with the time difference, and you can surely put some of it down to small sample sizes.

However, some of the reviews were very lengthy, including one in The Citadel’s game against Western Carolina that took much longer than what was stated on the game report. Both the length of the reviews and the accuracy of the game reports are issues that the conference must address.

Other tidbits on the length of league contests:

  • Shortest game: The Citadel at Chattanooga, 2:44
  • Longest game: Samford at Western Carolina, 4:10
  • Longest game not delayed by lightning: Chattanooga at Mercer, 3:31
  • Teams that averaged under three hours per game on the road: VMI, The Citadel
  • Teams that averaged over 3:10 per game on the road: Chattanooga, Furman, Samford
  • Teams that averaged under three hours per game at home: VMI
  • Teams that averaged over 3:10 per game at home: Mercer, Samford, Western Carolina

I’ve also included a tab for league game attendance. A few quick notes:

  • Largest crowd: Wofford at Mercer, 12727
  • Smallest crowd: Samford at VMI, 3310
  • Largest home crowd variance: Samford, 3523 vs. Chattanooga and 9233 vs. The Citadel
  • Smallest home crowd variance: ETSU, 7087 vs. Wofford and 8022 vs. Mercer
  • Largest road crowd variance: Samford, 3310 at VMI and 12018 at Western Carolina
  • Smallest road crowd variance: The Citadel, 7521 at Chattanooga and 10105 at Furman

Odds and ends, 2017 SoCon action edition:

– Western Carolina led the league in net rushing if you take sacks out of the equation (as you should). The most important player any league team will have to replace for the upcoming season, in my opinion, is former WCU running back Detrez Newsome.

– Furman quarterbacks were only sacked twice in conference play, despite 142 pass attempts. The Paladins’ 1.4% sack against rate was easily the league’s best. The SoCon average was 6.3%.

– The passes defensed rate in league action was 12.6%. Samford led the conference in PD rate, at 15.8%, slightly ahead of Western Carolina.

– The Citadel led the conference in time of possession (and led FCS in that category as well).

– The kickoff touchback rate in SoCon play was 28.8%, but East Tennessee State’s t-back rate was 72.7%, by far the highest in the conference.

– Wofford’s +10 turnover margin was the best in the league. VMI trailed the field with a -18 margin.

– The average yards per play in conference games was 5.22. The top offense in y/p was Furman (6.68). The best defense in the category was Samford (4.72).

There are now less than two months to go before the season begins. The first league game takes place on September 1, when The Citadel plays at Wofford.

We’ll be ready.