Gridiron Countdown: The Citadel’s 2014 run/pass tendencies, per-play averages, 4th-down decision-making, and more

Also in the “Gridiron Countdown” series:

Preseason ratings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

What teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before facing The Citadel?

The Citadel competes to win games — and fans

Link of interest:

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier writes about The Citadel’s quarterback/slotback situation

Last year, I wrote about tendencies in playcalling by the then-new coach of the Bulldogs, Mike Houston (and his offensive coordinator, Brent Thompson), and compared what Houston had done while at Lenoir-Rhyne the year before to Kevin Higgins’ last two seasons at The Citadel. This post will be similar.

This time, I’m comparing what Houston and company did last year at The Citadel with the 2013 season for the Bulldogs, as well as the aforementioned 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne campaign. My focus, as it was last year, is on down-and-distance run/pass tendencies, fourth down decision-making, and assorted other statistical comparisons.

Most of the statistics that follow are based on conference play, and only conference play. That’s where the gridiron success or failure of The Citadel will be judged, not on games against Florida State or Charlotte.

The conference slates looked like this:

  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2014 versus SoCon opposition. The teams in the league last year: Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2013 against SoCon foes. As a reminder, those opponents were: Wofford, Western Carolina, Furman, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Chattanooga, Samford, and Elon.
  • Lenoir-Rhyne is a member of D-II’s South Atlantic Conference. In 2013, the Bears played seven league games in 2013 versus the following schools: Wingate, Tusculum, Brevard, Newberry, Mars Hill, Carson-Newman, and Catawba.

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2014. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2013, and that will be followed by Lenoir-Rhyne’s run percentage for that situation in 2013 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 88.9% (77.1%) [92.1%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 88.9% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 77.1% of the time in 2013. Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball 92.1% of the time on first down during its 2013 campaign.

Lenoir-Rhyne went undefeated in SAC play in 2013 and had substantial leads in the second half in most of its league games, which probably explains the slightly higher percentage of first down run plays (as compared to last year’s team at The Citadel, which was coached by the same staff). I don’t think the fairly sizable difference between the Bulldogs’ 2013 and 2014 squads in this category is an accident.

Overall, The Citadel passed the ball on 15.7% of its plays last season in league action. As a comparison, Lenoir-Rhyne threw the ball only 10.8% of the time in 2013 SAC play.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories:

– 2nd-and-short: 84.0% (95.8%) [90.0%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 90.2% (87.8%) [87.7%]
– 2nd-and-long: 82.2% (75.0%) [84.1%]
– 3rd-and-short: 95.5% (85.7%) [95.8%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 90.3% (90.9%) [93.1%]
– 3rd-and-long: 57.4% (54.0%) [71.1%]

A caveat to these numbers is that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs.

There were also six would-be pass attempts in conference play that resulted in sacks. However, those six plays are considered pass attempts in terms of playcalling, even though the yardage lost in sacks is subtracted from a team’s rushing totals (this is how the NCAA does it; in the NFL, sacks go against a team’s passing yardage).

I think the bracketed percentages (from Lenoir-Rhyne’s 2013 season) probably come close to Brent Thompson’s ideal in terms of how often he wants to run the football in those down-and-distance situations. Other than 3rd-and-long, The Citadel’s playcalling last year was very similar to what the Bears did that season. Again, that reflects the difference between a team that was usually in the lead versus a team that wasn’t always so fortunate.

In 2013 conference play, Lenoir-Rhyne only attempted one pass in a 3rd-and-short situation. It fell incomplete. In 2014 league action, The Citadel only attempted one pass in a 3rd-and-short situation; however, that came on the final play of the game against Samford, and shouldn’t really count as a standard down-and-distance playcalling situation.

That 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad attempted three passes on 2nd-and-short. Two of them were incomplete; the third try resulted in a sack.

Last year, The Citadel attempted four passes on 2nd-and-short. The first three of them fell incomplete.

In the season finale at VMI, however, the Bulldogs did complete a 2nd-and-short toss, a Miller connection (Aaron to Vinny) that went for 26 yards and set up a field goal to close out the first half of that contest. Upstairs in the Foster Stadium press box, Brent Thompson undoubtedly heaved a sigh of relief after calling his first successful 2nd/3rd-and-short pass play in league action in almost two years.

On a serious note, The Citadel has to convert at a higher rate when it passes the ball in 2nd- and 3rd-and-short situations. The offense must take advantage of having the element of surprise in its favor.

– The Citadel’s offense in 2013 in SoCon action: 69.6 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense in 2013 in SAC play: 73.0 plays per game, 12.1 possessions per game
– The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon action: 75.4 plays per game, 11.0 possessions per game*

*This does not include the Bulldogs’ overtime possession against Furman

As I mentioned last year, there is occasionally a misconception that under Mike Houston, Lenoir-Rhyne ran a “hurry up” offense. In truth it ran a “no huddle” offense. Indeed, it is hard to imagine too many “hurry up” offenses that only possess the football for eleven drives per game, as The Citadel did last season.

In 2014, The Citadel had a time of possession edge over its league opponents that exceeded five minutes (32:40 – 27:20). Holding on to the football is generally good for offensive production, to be sure, but it also is greatly beneficial for the Bulldogs’ defense. Keeping the other team’s offense off the field is often the best defense.

Incidentally, in 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne had an edge in time of possession versus its SAC opponents of over seven minutes (33:38 – 26:22).

– The Citadel’s offense in 2013 in SoCon action: 5.41 yards per play, including 5.13 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass attempt
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense in 2013 in SAC play: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.81 yards per rush and 8.5 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon games: 5.56 yards per play, including 5.35 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt

Last year, the Bulldogs’ offense improved in all three per-play categories listed above. I think the goal going forward might be for yards per rush to exceed 5.75, and for yards per pass attempt to exceed 8.0 (or at least 7.5). I don’t know what the coaching staff thinks about that, of course (or if they think about it at all).

Now let’s look at yards per play numbers for the defense:

– The Citadel’s defense in 2013 in SoCon action: 5.47 yards per play, including 4.39 yards per rush and 7.2 yards per pass attempt
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense in 2013 in SAC play: 4.25 yards per play, including 2.37 yards per rush and 6.2 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 7.02 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt

Uh, yikes.

This wasn’t a situation where a one-game outlier affected the average, either. The Citadel allowed more than seven yards per play in four of seven league contests. Not coincidentally, it allowed more than nine yards per pass attempt in four of seven league games as well.

The yards per rush statistics wouldn’t be so bad if the totals for the game against Western Carolina weren’t included, but that’s like asking Mary Todd Lincoln if the rest of the play was decent.

Did the Bulldogs consistently put pressure on the quarterback last year? Well, not exactly.

– The Citadel’s defense in 2013 in SoCon action: 12 sacks, 26 passes defensed in 204 attempts (12.7% PD)
– Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense in 2013 in SAC play: 32 sacks, 31 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (14.6% PD)
– The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 8 sacks, 14 passes defensed in 176 pass attempts (8.0% PD)

Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions. Averaging only two passes defensed per game isn’t good, especially when opponents are throwing the ball 25 times per contest.

Hard and fast statistics in passes defensed are not easy to find at the FCS level, so I don’t know for certain how The Citadel stacked up on a national basis. Cross-division comparisons aren’t perfect, but I think it’s worth mentioning that Idaho finished last in all of FBS in 2014 in passes defensed per game, with an average of…two.

That isn’t all about the secondary, either. It is very hard to defend the pass when the quarterback has plenty of time to throw the ball (in addition to a measly eight sacks in league play, the Bulldogs only had eleven “hurries” in those seven games).

In seven conference games, The Citadel’s defense allowed 47 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more — 21 rushes and 26 pass plays.

Western Carolina had seven of those rushes. VMI’s Al Cobb personally accounted for eight 20+ yard plays from scrimmage against the Bulldogs (seven passes and a run).

Yes, there is a great deal of room for improvement on defense.

During the 2014 campaign, The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action was 46.3%, about in line with its conversion rate for all games (47.8%, best in the league). The Bulldogs’ offensive 4th-down conversion rate was 60% (12 for 20).

On defense, The Citadel held conference opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%, which is a little better than it did when including all games (45.3%). However, the Bulldogs were not as good stopping opponents on third down as the upper-echelon SoCon squads were. Counting all games and not just league contests, both Chattanooga and Samford held their opponents below 33% for the season.

In 2015, The Citadel’s defense has to do a better job of “getting off the field” on third down. It also would help to pick up a few more stops on 4th down. League opponents converted 52.9% of 4th-down attempts against the Bulldogs.

Fourth-down stops were an issue against Samford (which converted on 4th down during both of its final two possessions, with each drive resulting in a touchdown) and Wofford (which went 4 for 4 on 4th down). Of course, the key to the game against the Terriers was a successful fourth-down conversion by The Citadel that was ignored by the on-field officials.

The red zone isn’t a misbegotten region of communist influence, but instead is a reference to the area of a football field inside the 20-yard line.

In SoCon play, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate in the red zone last year was 67% (18 TDs in 27 trips inside the 20). That was an improvement over 2013 (60% TD rate). Lenoir-Rhyne’s rate in 2013 was 73%.

League opponents successfully converted red zone appearances into touchdowns 60% of the time against the Bulldogs’ defense (15 TDs in 25 trips). Last season, that number was 67%. Mike Houston’s 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad only allowed opponents to score TDs in the red zone 46% of the time.

A quick look at fumbles:

In 2014 league play, The Citadel’s opponents fumbled fourteen times, with the Bulldogs recovering seven of them. On offense, The Citadel fumbled ten times, losing six of those.

There wasn’t any real “fumble luck” either way for the Bulldogs last season. When the ball hits the ground, each team usually has a 50-50 shot at getting it.

While there were a few ill-timed fumbles last season, I think it could be argued that The Citadel in general did a better job of not fumbling than might be expected for a triple option team. Aaron Miller has to get a lot of credit for that.

The Citadel was called for 37 penalties in seven league contests last season, an average of 5.3 per game. That is actually a little less than the number of infractions assessed against Lenoir-Rhyne in 2013 (6.1 per league matchup).

However, it was more than fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium had seen in recent years. The program had led FCS in fewest penalties per game for three consecutive seasons. Last year, The Citadel tied for 45th nationally in the category (counting all games, the Bulldogs were whistled for 5.9 penalties per contest).

– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2013, SoCon action: 6 (in eight games)
– Punts by Lenoir-Rhyne while in opposing territory in 2013, SAC play: 3 (in seven games)
– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2014, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)

One of the six punts in opposing territory came in the season finale at VMI. Leading 45-25 early in the 4th quarter, the Bulldogs faced a 4th-and-7 on the VMI 33.

The Citadel wound up taking a delay-of-game penalty, moving the ball back to the VMI 38, and punted into the end zone for a touchback. Taking a delay penalty didn’t do anything in terms of taking time off the clock, because the previous play had been an incomplete pass.

Nevertheless, I see no particular reason to question a fairly conservative decision when up 3 scores in the 4th quarter. It’s too bad the net on the punt was only 18 yards (and in effect only 13 yards, taking into account the penalty).

Interestingly, the penalty-before-punt scenario was a part of four of the six punts The Citadel had in opposing territory.

Late in the first half against Western Carolina and holding an 8-7 lead, The Citadel lined up to go for it on 4th-and-2 at the Catamounts’ 39-yard line. The Bulldogs were called for a false start penalty, and wound up punting rather than going for it on 4th-and-7 from the WCU 44.

With less than six minutes remaining in the contest and the Bulldogs trailing 21-15, The Citadel again lined up to go for it in WCU territory. This time it was 4th-and-3 from the Catamounts’ 37-yard line — and once again, the Bulldogs were foiled by a false start penalty. On 4th-and-8 from the WCU 42, The Citadel punted.

Early in the fourth quarter against Furman, the Bulldogs faced a 4th-and-4 on the Paladins’ 43-yard line. The ensuing punt was a touchback.

Three plays later, Furman scored on a 65-yard pass play to take a 35-28 lead (though the Bulldogs would ultimately win the game in overtime).

Against Samford, The Citadel moved the ball to the SU 33 with just under a minute remaining in the first half, but wound up in a 4th-and-10 situation. Like the VMI game, the clock was stopped after an incomplete pass.

The Bulldogs wound up taking a delay-of-game penalty and punted into the end zone. Samford ran out the clock to end the half (with The Citadel trailing 7-0 at the break).

The Citadel’s opening offensive possession of the third quarter in that game resulted in another punt after crossing the 50. This time, the ball was on the Samford 47, and it was 4th-and-7.

None of the decisions to punt were egregious. The issue, of course, is that The Citadel had a limited number of possessions in any given game (as noted earlier, an average of 11). It’s critical to cash in when there are opportunities on a short field.

I don’t know if Mike Houston regrets any of these six decisions. If he didn’t, I could easily understand.

The most questionable of them was arguably the second punt in opposing territory against Western Carolina. Down six points in a game in which The Citadel would likely only get one more possession (and facing an offense that had moved the ball up and down the field all day against the Bulldogs’ defense), going for it may have been worth the gamble, even after the penalty.

Speaking of whether or not to go for it on 4th down, here is a summary of what The Citadel did in those situations in 2014 when the Bulldogs were inside the opponent’s 40-yard line (and also mentioning when the Bulldogs went for it in other areas of the field).

Not included in these numbers: 4th-down “desperation” or “garbage time” situations, and “accidental” fourth down tries. Last season, there were no “accidental” attempts (dropped punts, that type of thing).

I determined there were four “desperation” 4th-down tries, and one “garbage time” attempt. For the record, these five plays were:

– Down 34-7 to Chattanooga very late in the 3rd quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-3 from its own 49
– Down 29-15 to Western Carolina late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-6 from the WCU 19
– Down 17-13 to Wofford late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-4 from the Wofford 31
– Down 17-13 to Wofford very late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-3 from the Wofford 3
– Down 13-10 to Samford late in the 4th quarter, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-3 from the Samford 38

Okay, now for some terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

In league play, The Citadel was faced with 4th-and-short in the Red Zone twice. The Bulldogs attempted a field goal (which was missed) late in the game at VMI. The other time the 4th-and-short situation came up was in overtime against Furman, and Aaron Miller ran for a first down inside the 2-yard line (he would score two plays later).

The only two times the Bulldogs had a 4th-and-medium situation in SoCon play in the Red Zone, Eric Goins successfully converted field goals (both against Wofford). I should mention that the decision to kick one of those field goals was influenced by the fact that only 19 seconds remained in the first half of the game.

Goins also kicked a field goal on the one occasion in which The Citadel faced a 4th-and-long in the Red Zone (versus Samford).

On 4th-and-short in the Front Zone, the Bulldogs went for it three times (not counting one of the two false start/punt situations that were discussed in the previous section of this post). The Citadel ran the ball all three times, and picked up the first down twice.

On 4th-and-medium in the Front Zone, The Citadel went for it twice (again, not including one of the false start/punt situations against Western Carolina).

One of those 4th-and-medium tries was a failed rushing attempt at Mercer. The other play, however, was a 32-yard TD pass from Aaron Miller to Alex Glover against VMI.

On 4th-and-long in the Front Zone, the Bulldogs did not have a lot of luck, missing all four field goal attempts in that situation, and also failing on a rushing attempt and a pass play.

The Citadel went for it six times on 4th-and-short in the Mid Zone, and made five of them (all six attempts were rushing plays). There was also a converted first down in this situation that was the result of the defense jumping offsides (that was against Furman).

Incidentally, one of the six attempts could have been considered a “desperation” situation. That came slightly more than midway through the fourth quarter against Samford. Later in the same drive, the Bulldogs were faced with another 4th-down call, and I did consider that one a “desperation” play. Your mileage may vary.

In reviewing all 4th-and-short situations for The Citadel’s offense in league play, it appears there was only one 4th-and-short situation in the Mid Zone in which Mike Houston did not go for the first down. That happened on the Bulldogs’ opening drive of the game against Chattanooga. On 4th-and-2 from its own 49, The Citadel punted.

I think this illustrates Houston’s philosophy on 4th-down decision-making fairly well. In 4th-and-short situations in the Red, Front, and Mid zones, The Citadel lined up to go for it twelve out of fourteen times in SoCon action. The two exceptions were a late, relatively meaningless field goal attempt and an early-game punt from near midfield.

Basically, once the Bulldogs got past their own 40-yard line, they were a threat (if not outright expected) to go for it on every 4th-and-short situation.

I like that. I like that a lot.

As you can probably guess, I’m ready for the season to start. Who isn’t?

2014 Football, The Citadel: a statistical review of the past in an attempt to foresee the future

Links to a few things I’ve written about The Citadel’s football program since last season ended, if anyone hasn’t seen them yet:

Secret memo to Mike Houston

Corps Day, spring football, and some Beautiful Bulldogs

Prime SoCon football recruiting areas

Improving the gameday experience at Johnson Hagood Stadium

What teams will The Citadel’s opponents play before facing the Bulldogs?

Competing for a Crowd

Jeff Hartsell writes about “five questions” Mike Houston will have to answer as fall practice begins

Another season of gridiron activity is just around the corner, and it can’t get here soon enough. The expectations for The Citadel’s football team in 2014 may be relatively modest, but that doesn’t reduce anticipation among supporters of the Bulldogs.

I’ll link to various SoCon previews scattered across the internet when I write about the season opener against Coastal Carolina. For this post, I’m going to take a look back at certain elements of offensive and defensive play from a statistical perspective. I’ll largely be comparing last season’s team at The Citadel to Mike Houston’s 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne squad.

The idea is to get a sense, at least in general terms, of how the new coach and his staff will approach things on the field. Obviously, there is a difference between FCS and Division II, but that doesn’t mean some basic concepts and tendencies won’t carry over.

It may not be optimal as the basis for a preview, but I’ve got to hang my hat on something. I’m used to ill-fitting caps, anyway (I wear a size 7 3/4).

All of the statistics to follow (unless otherwise noted) are based on conference games only, both for The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne. The Bulldogs played eight games in 2013 against SoCon foes. As a reminder, those opponents were: Wofford, Western Carolina, Furman, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, UT-Chattanooga, Samford, and Elon.

Lenoir-Rhyne is a member of D-II’s South Atlantic Conference, and played seven league games versus the following schools: Wingate, Tusculum, Brevard, Newberry, Mars Hill, Carson-Newman, and Catawba.

As it happens, Lenoir-Rhyne played Carson-Newman twice last season, once in regular-season conference play and once in the D-II playoffs, winning both games (though the postseason contest was much closer). For the purposes of my review, however, I’m only including the league game between the two teams.

Some definitions:

– 2nd-and-short: 3 yards or less for a first down
– 2nd-and-medium: 4 to 6 yards for a first down
– 2nd-and-long: 7+ yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-short: 2 yards or less for a first down
– 3rd-and-medium: 3 to 4 yards for a first down
– 3rd-and-long: 5+ yards for a first down

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball in that situation in 2013. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2013, and that will be followed by The Citadel’s run percentage for that situation in 2012 (which will be in brackets).

For example, when it came to running the ball on first down, the numbers looked like this:

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 92.1% (77.1%) [85.5%]

Thus, Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball on first down 92.1% of the time, while The Citadel ran the ball in that situation 77.1% of the time in 2013 and 85.5% of the time in 2012.

The differential was a bit surprising, but keep in mind that game status was a factor. Lenoir-Rhyne went undefeated in SAC play in 2013 and led after three quarters in all seven contests, on several occasions by significant margins.

Meanwhile, The Citadel was 4-4 in SoCon play in 2013 and had to throw the ball more often than it wanted in some of those games as it tried to overcome a deficit. That doesn’t explain all the difference, but some of it.

As I wrote in my review of The Citadel’s 2013 campaign, the attempt to diversify the offense in spring practice/preseason simply backfired. The offense threw the ball on 22.6% of its plays. That percentage, for a run-first/second/third type of team, was too high.

Lenoir-Rhyne passed the ball on only 10.8% of its offensive plays in league contests.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories:

– 2nd-and-short: 90.0% (95.8%) [86.7%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 87.7% (87.8%) [93.6%]
– 2nd-and-long: 84.1% (75.0%) [80.9%]
– 3rd-and-short: 95.8% (85.7%) [100.0%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 93.1% (90.9%) [86.3%]
– 3rd-and-long: 71.1% (54.0%) [49.1%]

A further caveat to these numbers, in terms of playcalling, is that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs.

Few teams can claim to have been as committed to the run as Lenoir-Rhyne was in 2013. Running the ball on 37 of 52 long-yardage third-down plays, as the Bears did in conference action in 2013, is very unusual in the modern game.

Lenoir-Rhyne ran the ball in every 2nd-and-short situation it faced in its first six league games. In its final SAC contest, against Catawba, offensive coordinator Brent Thompson changed things up a bit, calling for three pass plays on 2nd-and-short. Those three plays resulted in an incomplete pass and two sacks.

Only once during the conference campaign did Lenoir-Rhyne attempt a pass on 3rd-and-short. It fell incomplete. I’m guessing that in 2014, Thompson will continue to call running plays most of the time in short yardage situations.

It should be noted that The Citadel did not fare any better the few times it attempted to pass on short-yardage plays. The Bulldogs attempted only four passes in 45 such situations in 2013 conference play.

The hope for throwing on 2nd-and-short or 3rd-and-short would be to surprise the defense and produce a long gainer. However, The Citadel was only 2-4 passing in short yardage, for a grand total of twelve yards. One of the incompletions was actually an interception in the Red Zone.

Lenoir-Rhyne averaged 6.09 yards per offensive play in SAC action, which included 5.81 yards per rush and 8.5 yards per pass attempt. Corresponding numbers for The Citadel: 5.41 yards per offensive play, 5.13 yards per rush, 6.4 yards per pass attempt.

The Bears averaged 73 plays per game and 12.1 possessions per contest (slightly more than The Citadel, which averaged 69.6 plays and exactly 12 possessions per game in SoCon play).

I wanted to mention the plays per game and number of possessions to correct a misconception, that of L-R running a “hurry up” offense. Lenoir-Rhyne ran a “no huddle” offense, but definitely not a hurry-up operation a la Oregon.

L-R had a time-of-possession edge of over seven minutes against its league opponents (33:38 – 26:22). That certainly was a benefit to the Bears’ defense (more on that unit later).

The primary benefit of the no-huddle look (at least from my perspective) was that it kept Lenoir-Rhyne opponents from freely substituting after each play. Each drive (for the most part) turned into an 11-vs.-11 battle, and clearly L-R thought that was to its advantage.

I do wonder if this particular strategy had its origins in depth issues, which could be more of a factor at the Division II level than in FCS. However, I get the impression that this coaching staff is not in the business of regularly rotating players, regardless of how many scholarship athletes are on hand.

I would expect starters to play most of the snaps this year at The Citadel, at least on offense. Among other things, it would be in keeping with Mike Houston’s stated desire to redshirt as many freshmen as possible.

Having said that, it is to the staff’s credit (and the players as well) that Lenoir-Rhyne advanced to the D-II national title game despite losing two quarterbacks to injury. Winning three playoff games with a third-string QB behind center was very impressive.

Also of interest: Brent Thompson called plays from upstairs in the coaches’ box during games at Lenoir-Rhyne, and is expected to do the same at The Citadel.

Next, a little game theory discussion, which I went into last year as well. I wanted to see how aggressive Kevin Higgins and Mike Houston were in fourth down situations.

Not included in these numbers: fourth down “desperation” or “garbage time” situations, and “accidental” fourth down tries. That means I’m not counting Eric Goins’ first down dash for The Citadel after he dropped a punt snap against Western Carolina. However, the excellent fake punt for a first down Goins ran against Samford does count.

Terms (as defined by Football Outsiders):

– Deep Zone: from a team’s own goal line to its 20-yard line
– Back Zone: from a team’s own 21-yard line to its 39-yard line
– Mid Zone: from a team’s own 40-yard line to its opponent’s 40-yard line
– Front Zone: from an opponent’s 39-yard line to the opponent’s 21-yard line
– Red Zone: from an opponent’s 20-yard line to the opponent’s goal line

– On fourth down and two yards or less to go: Lenoir-Rhyne went for it five times in the Red Zone, successfully converting four times. On a sixth 4th-and-short situation inside the 20, the Bears kicked a field goal.

In the Front Zone, L-R went for it twice on 4th-and-short, making it both times. Lenoir-Rhyne punted on all three occasions it faced 4th-and-short in the Mid Zone (in each of those instances, L-R had the ball on its own side of the field).

In 2013, The Citadel went for it on two 4th-and-short situations in the Red Zone, converting once. The Bulldogs picked up a first down on four of five tries on 4th-and-short in the Front Zone.

Against UT-Chattanooga, The Citadel twice went for it on 4th-and-short in the Back Zone while attempting to hold a lead in the fourth quarter. Both times, the Bulldogs got the first down.

– On fourth down and three to five yards to go: Lenoir-Rhyne had one fourth-and-medium opportunity in the Red Zone in league play, against Brevard (a 41-0 blowout), and elected to kick a field goal in that situation. In the Front Zone, the Bears had six 4th-and-medium plays; twice L-R decided to go for it, and it went one for two picking up the first down. The other 4th-and-medium situations all resulted in field goal attempts.

Lenoir-Rhyne punted three times when faced with fourth-and-medium in the Mid Zone. Of those three situations, the opposing 49-yard line was the furthest the Bears had advanced the ball.

The Citadel had eight 4th-and-medium situations in 2013 SoCon play that took place in the Red, Front, or Mid Zones. Of four Red Zone opportunities, the Bulldogs tried three field goals and went for the first down once (failing to make it; that came on a fake field goal attempt). The Citadel was one for two in 4th-and-medium attempts in both the Front Zone and the Mid Zone.

– On fourth down and six or more yards to go: Lenoir-Rhyne attempted two field goals when faced with 4th-and-long in the Red Zone. In the Front Zone, L-R attempted three field goals. On one occasion, the Bears punted. That came against Brevard, on a fourth-and-14 from Brevard’s 39-yard line.

The Citadel faced 4th-and-long three times in the Red Zone, and attempted a field goal all three times. As mentioned above, the Bulldogs also attempted a conversion from the Back Zone on 4th-and-long, successfully executing a fake punt against Samford.

On two occasions last season, Mike Houston was faced with this scenario: his offense had the ball on the opponents’ 1-yard line, but there was only time for one more play before the end of the first half. Go for the touchdown, or kick a field goal?

This situation first happened against Tusculum, with Lenoir-Rhyne holding a 14-3 lead, five seconds remaining in the half, and facing third-and-goal from the 1. Houston elected to go for the TD — but the Bears got stopped, and didn’t get points or momentum.

A little over a month later, versus Carson-Newman (in the regular-season matchup), almost the exact same set of circumstances came to pass. Lenoir-Rhyne led 14-3 as halftime approached, and had the ball on the 1-yard line. In this case, six seconds remained in the half and it was 4th-and-goal for the Bears.

Did Houston decide to kick the field goal, mindful of the failure against Tusculum? No. He went for the TD again, and this time Lenoir-Rhyne punched it in for six points.

Lenoir-Rhyne punted three times last season in league play while in opposing territory. Those three instances: a punt from the Brevard 39-yard line on 4th-and-14 (mentioned earlier); a 4th-and-5 from the Brevard 49-yard line; and a 4th-and-19 from the Mars Hill 44-yard line.

The Citadel punted six times in SoCon action while on its opponents’ side of the 50. The Bulldogs did so twice against Furman (on 4th-and-9 from the Paladins’ 48-yard line, and on 4th-and-7 from Furman’s 42); once versus Appalachian State (a 4th-and-9 from the App 44-yard line); once against Georgia Southern (a 4th-and-6 from the GSU 45); once versus UT-Chattanooga (a 4th-and-6 from the UTC 43, with Aaron Miller originally lining up behind center and then punting the ball away); and once against Samford.

The only dubious “short field” punting situation was probably The Citadel’s punt in the Samford game, which came on 4th-and-12 from the SU 33-yard line. However, that occurred after a delay-of-game penalty; originally, it was 4th-and-7 on the Samford 28.

That happened with about five minutes remaining in the game and The Citadel holding a 28-20 lead. I think going for it would have been the correct decision in that situation, at least from the SU 28-yard line.

As it was, despite pinning Samford back on its own 9-yard line following the punt, The Citadel still allowed a TD drive. Fortunately for the Cadets, the potential tying two-point conversion attempt did not succeed.

Lenoir-Rhyne’s most-mentioned statistic from the 2013 season was its season rushing yardage. In fifteen games, the Bears rushed for a total of 5,563 yards, an all-divisions record. Even when considering they played fifteen games, that number is striking. Lenoir-Rhyne’s rushing yards per game led Division II as well.

However, when looking through L-R’s team totals, it is clear that a high-powered offense was far from the only reason Lenoir-Rhyne went 13-2. In fact, it may not have been the biggest reason.

Here is something that might surprise a few people: Lenoir-Rhyne did not lead the South Atlantic Conference in scoring offense in 2013. It also didn’t lead the SAC in total offense, or first downs made, or red zone scoring percentage, or red zone TD percentage, or even time of possession.

Last season, the SAC was a very offense-friendly league. Six of the eight teams averaged at least 27 points per game in conference play. Newberry allowed 22.1 points per game, and that was the second-best scoring defense in the SAC.

The best? That would be Lenoir-Rhyne, which allowed only 10.7 points per contest.

That is not a typo. L-R allowed fewer than half as many points as the league’s second-best defense.

Lenoir-Rhyne only allowed 4.25 yards per play last season. The Bears were particularly stingy against the run, only allowing 2.37 yards per rush. L-R gave up more than 2.7 yards rushing per play in only one of its seven league games (though it’s only fair to point out that sacks in college football count against rushing yardage totals).

L-R gave up 6.2 yards per pass attempt last year.

The Citadel’s defense improved its yards per play numbers in 2013, from 5.75 (2012) to 5.47 (2013). The Bulldogs allowed 4.39 yards per rush in 2013.

In terms of yards per pass attempt, The Citadel was actually a little better defensively in 2012 (6.5) than 2013 (7.2).

Note: the numbers that follow for passes defensed are slightly different from those I mentioned in last year’s season review. I have corrected a small statistical error from that post.

The Citadel defensed (broke up or intercepted) 26 passes in eight league games in 2013. Conference opponents threw the ball 204 times against the Bulldogs, so the PD rate was 12.7%. This was marginally better than 2012 (12.4%).

That’s not a particularly good percentage. Now, a fair-to-middling PD rate doesn’t necessarily mean a defense is mediocre; as I mentioned in my review, Michigan State’s defense was unquestionably superb, including its dynamic defensive secondary, and its PD rate was 14.4%.

If you aren’t breaking up or intercepting passes, you have to be doing something else. That something else sticks out in a major way when comparing The Citadel’s defense with Lenoir-Rhyne’s D in 2013.

I mentioned a few sentences ago that 204 passes were thrown against The Citadel’s defense in conference action. That is a similar number to what Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense faced. SAC opponents threw the ball 212 times against the Bears.

* Number of sacks by The Citadel’s defense, league play: 12

* Number of sacks by Lenoir-Rhyne’s defense, league play: 32

Lenoir-Rhyne had more sacks in its first two conference games (fourteen) than the Bulldogs had in eight SoCon contests.

Mike Houston likes to use the words “aggressive” and “attack”, and they appear to be good descriptors for his defensive philosophy. That is the key point I got out of reviewing Lenoir-Rhyne’s statistics, and also watching some of the action from the Bears’ playoff run.

Part of that aggression may have resulted in a few more penalties, though L-R did not commit that many infractions (6.1 per game in league play). Of course, The Citadel has led all of FCS in the “fewest penalties” category for three consecutive seasons, so six penalties per game for the home team might seem like a lot at Johnson Hagood Stadium this fall.

That way of playing worked out for Lenoir-Rhyne most of the time, obviously, but every now and then the Bears got burned. Mars Hill was only 3-8 last season, but stayed in its game against the Bears thanks to two long touchdown runs (77 and 81 yards) and a 34-yard TD pass.

In its playoff game versus North Alabama, L-R’s defense allowed touchdown passes of 71 and 48 yards. West Chester also scored on a long pass play (60 yards) to take the lead in its national semifinal against the Bears (only to see Lenoir-Rhyne score 30 unanswered points).

When an opposing team got into the Red Zone, Lenoir-Rhyne was very tough, allowing only a 46% TD rate (that number is for all games, not just conference play). At times, though, the Bears were susceptible to giving up a score before the other team actually moved the ball inside the 20.

Speaking of the Red Zone: The Citadel’s offense only scored touchdowns on 60% of its trips to that stretch of turf, a disappointing percentage (again, Red Zone numbers are for all games). Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense scored TDs 73% of the time when reaching the opposing 20-yard line.

The Citadel’s defense allowed touchdowns 67% of the time when the opponent moved inside the Red Zone.

A brief word on fumbles (these numbers are for all games):

– Lenoir-Rhyne put the ball on the ground 29 times in 15 games last season, losing 14. Defensively, the Bears forced 19 fumbles and recovered 10 of them.

– In twelve contests, The Citadel fumbled 24 times and lost 11 of them. On defense, the Bulldogs forced 17 fumbles, recovering 7 of them.

There isn’t really much to gather from that, other than in terms of being fumble-prone, the two offenses were very similar.

Just a couple of notes about Lenoir-Rhyne’s kicking game from last season:

– The Bears had a solid field goal kicker, which may have caused Mike Houston to go for field goals slightly more often than he otherwise would have, because he would have had a relatively high degree of confidence in his placekicker.

It’s possible Houston might be more aggressive in fourth-and-short and/or fourth-and-medium situations inside the 30-yard line this year, dependent on how much he wants to rely on the kicking game.

– In fifteen games, Lenoir-Rhyne only allowed 28 punt return yards, which was the fourth-lowest total in all of Division II. The Bears were 26th nationally in net punting, which suggests the coaching staff preferred allowing a minimum of return yardage at the expense of a certain amount of punt distance.

When it comes to getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014 football season, I hope this post has helped those who have read it in some small way.

Given the length of this missive, you might be under the impression that I am ready for football season to begin.

You would be correct.