Game Review, 2017: Wofford

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

– “Notes” package, The Post and Courier

“By the Numbers”, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

– AP game story

– Game story, Spartanburg Herald-Journal

– School release

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

– Game highlights (video)

– Boxscore

– ESPN3 video of the game

First, something not related to the football game but a bit more important:

Caroline Cashion, a mainstay on The Citadel’s soccer team for the past few years, was injured in the Bulldogs’ match against Chattanooga on Friday. She was hurt while attempting to head the ball away from goal; Cashion collided with one of the Mocs and went down heavily, immediately clutching her lower back after she landed.

Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier posted this message to Facebook on Sunday:

From Craig Cashion, father of injured Citadel soccer player Caroline Cashion: “Thank you to everyone for thoughts and prayers. Caroline still cannot move her legs but her feeling has moved from her waist to her upper thigh so she is improving slowly.”

Some Bulldog fans may recall that in addition to her high school soccer exploits, Cashion served as the placekicker for West Ashley High School’s football team, most memorably kicking a game-winning field goal against Summerville during her sophomore campaign.

Let us hope she makes a complete recovery.

Saturday’s loss was tough. The Bulldogs played hard, and often played well, but it wasn’t enough. There is only so much that can be said about a game like that.

A few random thoughts:

– I didn’t have any significant issues with the officiating in terms of specific calls, but the game management left a lot to be desired. There was no reason that contest should have taken over three hours to play.

A key third-down play for Wofford in the second quarter may have come after the play clock hit zero, but I wasn’t sure. The ESPN3 game replay would tend to indicate that the play should have been whistled dead, but it wasn’t and such is life, especially when league opponents face the Terriers.

– During the contest, I was more than a little startled to hear the P.A. announcer credit Wofford linebacker Michael Roach with a tackle on a kick return. Why?

Well, because Roach almost died last season after going into cardiac arrest during a game. I remembered his name (you could say I was predisposed to do so), and immediately tweeted a question, asking if he was playing again.

Not surprisingly (as Todd Shanesy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal soon replied), he wasn’t.

Later, Roach was credited by the P.A. with another special teams tackle. I had my suspicions, which were confirmed when I took another look at Wofford’s roster.

Wofford lists two players as wearing #43, Roach (who obviously doesn’t play) and linebacker Shaun Moore, a freshman from Spring Valley High School in Columbia.

It was undoubtedly Moore who made two tackles on special teams Saturday night, though the statistics don’t indicate as such. He is credited with participating in the game, however.

I don’t really know who was at fault for this particular episode of mistaken identity. I think it is probably up to the road team’s support staff to make sure the P.A. announcer (and his spotter) is given the correctly numbered roster. Whether or not that happened, I have no idea.

For a brief moment, though, I was left wondering if Michael Roach was making medical history…

– Near the end of the game, Brent Thompson was left with a tough decision in regards to when to take his timeouts on defense. There was a bit of nuance as to when he should take them. In general, he handled the situation reasonably well, though I thought he probably should have taken his first timeout one play earlier. Some might argue he should have done so two plays earlier.

It was a very tricky time/score management scenario. I was going through the various potential permutations myself and not coming up with any decisive answers, which is unusual for me, as I am one of those nerds who spends way too much time thinking about clock management.

In the end, it didn’t really matter once Wofford picked up its penultimate first down.

It mattered a little too much to a couple of guys behind me, though, who were loudly berating the coach as the clock wound down. I particularly remember one of them (maybe both of them) bellowing, “This isn’t high school!” as they yelled for Thompson to call timeout. “You’re paid to do this!” They shouted a few other things, too.

They were right about one thing. It wasn’t, and isn’t, high school. It is college. That applies to the coaches and players…and it also applies to the fans.

Thompson shouldn’t be immune from criticism — he is a professional, after all. There comes a time as a critic, however, when the point has been made, and over-the-top obnoxious behavior isn’t going to change anything or make things better.

In short, a couple of people need to grow up.

– The colored smoke routine for Military Appreciation Day was new (at least, I don’t remember seeing it before, but admittedly I could be very wrong about that). It led to a chaotic-looking scene on the field after the team made its run through the “Block C”.

To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the chaos. Let’s do that again.

– When the Bulldogs play again at Johnson Hagood Stadium in two weeks, it will be Homecoming. The opponent will be VMI, and the coveted Silver Shako will be on the line.

Would it be too much to ask that the team breaks out light blue jerseys and white pants for that game? Even if it is too much to ask, I’m asking anyway. C’mon.

As usual, the pictures aren’t the best; they aren’t the worst, either. No annotations, though the game action is in sequential order. My thanks to Spike The Bulldog for the pose in the initial photo (water bottle and all).

 

 

2014 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 8. The game will not be televised.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Furman

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 11/4 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Bruce Fowler on the SoCon media teleconference

DeVonta Delaney is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

The Citadel looks to finish strong

Furman is still seeking an offensive identity

As a reminder that basketball season is right around the corner, my preview of the Bulldogs’ upcoming campaign:

Getting ready for The Citadel’s 2014-15 hoops season

Revisiting last Saturday’s victory over Mercer:

– I’ll take that first-half performance by The Citadel’s offense every week, preferably for both halves. Five possessions, four touchdowns. They were good, long drives (of 71, 70, 82, and 53 yards).

All four of those scoring drives featured nothing but running plays. The other first-half possession, which resulted in the Bulldogs’ first punt, was short-circuited by a sack on The Citadel’s first would-be pass attempt of the game. That drive also featured the Bulldogs’ only penalty of the entire half (a false start).

– Then there was the second half. In the words of Mike Houston at the SoCon media teleconference:

We always seem to find a way to make it interesting.

Houston added that on the bright side, prevailing in close games helps the players’ mental toughness going forward. I’m not sure the same can be said for the fan base.

The six possessions of the second half resulted in two punts, a missed field goal, a failed fourth down conversion attempt, a lost fumble, and the final drive of the game, when three first downs (including a big 22-yard run by Aaron Miller on 3rd-and-4) clinched the victory for The Citadel.

The Bulldogs were their worst enemy during the latter half. Besides the fumble and the inability to convert on 4th-and-3 from the Mercer 35 (which was about the only time all day Mercer successfully defended on the outside), there were the by now all-too-familiar rash of penalties — six of them.

Now, one of those six penalties was a bit dubious, as I thought the unsportsmanlike conduct infraction called on Mitchell Jeter was weak. It kept Mercer’s final scoring drive alive, too.

However, the Bulldogs also had two false start penalties in the second half. One of them came prior to the opening play from scrimmage for The Citadel’s offense in the third quarter. The other forced the Bulldogs into a 3rd-and-7 that one play later became the aforementioned 4th-and-3 which The Citadel was unable to convert.

There was also an offensive holding penalty (which came right before the fumble — amazing how that works out), a facemask on defense (just a bad break), and a flag thrown on a kick return.

The Bulldogs have to stop committing those penalties.

– The Citadel’s defense did a fine job bottling up Alex Lakes, who came into the game as the SoCon’s leading rusher, at 102 yards per game. He is still the league’s top ground gainer (Aaron Miller is currently second in that category), but on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ D held him to 58 yards on 22 carries, with a long of 11 yards.

Mercer quarterback John Russ had more success running the ball, gaining 96 yards on 14 carries (and that includes lost yardage from two sacks). His 31-yard scamper in the first quarter set up the Bears’ first touchdown.

While I thought The Citadel’s defense for the most part was solid, those rushing yards by Russ are a reminder that the Bulldogs still have issues at times dealing with a QB who can pass or run.

This week, The Citadel will again face a dual-threat quarterback…

– Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb might want a do-over on the Bears’ two-point try. It wound up being a receiver pass to the quarterback, a tricky play that was expertly broken up by The Citadel’s DeVonta Delaney.

In that situation, I thought Mercer would have been better off with either Russ or Lakes trying to make a play, as is usually the case for the Bears. They are the primary ballhandlers for Mercer; a potential game-deciding play probably needs to go through one of them.

– After Aaron Miller picked up a first down on 3rd-and-4 with two minutes remaining (and Miller staying inbounds on the play), Mercer was down to one timeout and thus was not able to prevent the Bulldogs from running out the clock. I was a little surprised The Citadel ran two more “regular” plays (both Miller runs).

Maybe those runs were the Bulldogs’ version of “victory formation”, but I was worried about the chance of a fumble. In that situation, there was no need for The Citadel to risk a Mercer player becoming the college version of Herm Edwards.

Furman is 2-7 overall, 1-3 in the SoCon (with its league record matching The Citadel’s). The Paladins opened the season with a 13-3 home victory over Gardner-Webb, but it proved costly.

After passing for 221 yards, Furman quarterback Reese Hannon broke his left ankle in the third quarter. Just like that, the Paladins had lost their starting QB for the season.

The next week, Furman won its conference opener at Mercer, 25-20. The key play in the game was an interception return for a touchdown by Paladins defensive end Gary Wilkins.

Since defeating the Bears, Furman has lost seven consecutive games, its longest losing streak since 1972, a year in which FU lost its last seven games of the season.

Furman only scored seven points in each of the two games following the Mercer game, a 10-7 loss in Clinton to Presbyterian (the Blue Hose’s first victory over the Paladins since 1979) and a 17-7 defeat to South Carolina State (a team Furman had beaten in the first round of the FCS playoffs last season).

Western Carolina then defeated the Paladins in Greenville, 35-17, the first victory for the Catamounts at Furman in twenty years. WCU converted three Paladin turnovers into 21 points.

The following week saw Furman play arguably one of its better games of the season, eventually losing at home to Coastal Carolina 37-31 in double overtime. Furman had a chance to win the game in the first OT, but a wide receiver pass attempt went awry.

After a bye, the Paladins traveled to Columbia and played respectably in a 41-10 loss to the Gamecocks. Running back Hank McCloud rushed for 106 yards in the contest, including a 60-yard TD run.

The games of the last two weeks, however, could not be described as “respectable” by any fan of the Paladins.

Furman was shut out by Samford, 45-0, a result made worse by the fact it was the Paladins’ Homecoming game. After only one offensive play from scrimmage, Samford led Furman 14-0. It was that kind of day for the Paladins.

It was the worst conference loss for Furman since losing to Davidson 77-14 in 1969, and the first shutout loss to a SoCon opponent since The Citadel blanked Furman in Greenville 24-0 in 1974 (Andrew Johnson rushed for 149 yards in that contest, one of eight 100-yard efforts for Johnson that season).

Last week, the Paladins lost 31-15 at VMI, breaking a 21-game winning streak against the Keydets. VMI took a 24-0 lead in the third quarter and coasted to victory.

Furman only managed 82 yards rushing (on 20 attempts) against VMI. That may have been a more startling statistic than the final score, given that the Keydets had allowed an average of 349.5 rushing yards to their four previous league opponents.

Injuries have been a major theme of Furman’s season. Bruce Fowler didn’t want to go into full-alibi mode at the SoCon media teleconference when asked about it by The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell:

We’ve had a bunch of them, but I don’t like to harp on that. That’s part of [football]. We’ve got some young players who are getting some experience. They’ve been in several games now, some of them, and they’re getting better…

Fowler also mentioned that some of the positions on the roster had been disproportionately affected by injuries.

Exhibit A for that would be at safety. Apparently, being a safety at Furman is the equivalent of being the drummer for Spinal Tap.

Five different Paladins have started at free safety or strong safety in 2014; a sixth (Adekunle Olusanya) is listed as the starter at strong safety for this week’s game against The Citadel. Injuries suffered by Furman safeties include a sprained ankle (three different players), a concussion, a fractured arm (two different guys), a hamstring problem, and mononucleosis. That’s just the safeties, mind you.

Carl Rider, an all-conference pick last season at middle linebacker, tore his labrum. Offensive tackle Charles Emert, who had started 36 games for the Paladins, will miss this week’s contest after suffering a concussion.

There was also Hannon’s injury, of course, along with several others. Even Hank McCloud, who is second among active SoCon players in number of rushes (471), missed a game after dislocating his elbow in a car accident during the summer.

Furman has also been without the services this season of the Robinson brothers, Gary (who had 133 receiving yards versus The Citadel last year) and Terry (who scored two touchdowns against the Bulldogs as a “wildcat” QB). Both suffered injuries last season and have been unable to play this year.

Long snapper Danny LaMontagne fractured his ankle against South Carolina. He had been the regular for 31 games; his backup would normally have been Rider.

That led to this:

…the Paladins turned to the student body [after the South Carolina game] and found senior Andrew Smith.

Smith, who had not worn football pads since playing snapper at Brentwood (Tennessee) Academy in high school, did a solid job [against Samford] but decided not to return this week.

“He’s just got a lot going on as a senior,” said Fowler. “He’s working really hard in school and has some job stuff he’s doing.”

Furman is now using sophomore placekicker Hunter Townes as its long snapper, and offensive lineman Matthew Schmidt as its “short snapper”.

The Paladins have also had some off-field issues, dismissing impact defensive back Jairus Hollman and starting center Eric Thoni during the summer. Then just last week, Furman announced the dismissals of Shawn Boone (a fifth-year player, and a regular in the defensive end rotation) and reserve offensive lineman Aaron Black.

Time for some statistical team/conference comparisons. This week, these will mostly be for SoCon games only.

Furman and The Citadel have each played four league contests. Both have played Mercer and Western Carolina. The Bulldogs have also faced Chattanooga and Wofford, while the Paladins have played VMI and Samford.

If you’ve managed to get this far in my preview, you won’t be surprised to learn that Furman is last in the league in scoring offense (14.2 points per game). The Paladins are next-to-last in total offense and rushing offense.

The Paladins are actually second in passing offense, but in terms of passing efficiency, FU is next-to-last.

The Citadel’s defense is middle-of-the-pack in scoring defense (26.5 points allowed per contest) despite being next-to-last in total defense. The Bulldogs are also firmly in the middle of the standings in pass defense, but are next-to-last in defensive pass efficiency.

As for rushing defense…well, The Citadel is last in that category, trailing even VMI (thanks in part to the Keydets’ wonderful day against the Paladins last week).

One reason both teams don’t fare well in their respective pass efficiency categories: Furman has been intercepted eight times, tied for most in conference play, while The Citadel only has three interceptions (though all three have come in the last two weeks).

Furman’s offense has been in the red zone ten times in four league games. Only twice on those ten occasions have the Paladins scored touchdowns, by far the worst percentage in the SoCon. Counting all games, both league and non-conference, Furman’s red zone offensive TD rate is only 27.2%, so that inability to get into the end zone in league play is not a fluke.

The Citadel’s red zone defense has allowed seven TDs in fifteen attempts (46.7%).

The Paladins are last in the SoCon in third-down conversion rate (32.2%). That may be good news for the Bulldogs, owners of the league’s second-worst third-down defensive conversion rate (48.9%).

Of course, The Citadel’s third-down stats on D may be good news for Furman. Your mileage may vary.

Furman is next-to-last in scoring defense (32.8 points per game), though it is fifth in total defense and fourth in rushing defense. The Paladins are next-to-last in pass defense and last in defensive pass efficiency, though that may not matter much against The Citadel.

If it does matter, that would presumably be good for the Bulldogs.

The Citadel leads the league in rushing offense (and is second nationally), but is only fourth in total offense and sixth in scoring offense (17.5 points per game).

The Bulldogs are second in the league in third-down conversion rate (49.1%), while Furman is last in defensive third-down conversion rate (51.9%). That will be something to watch on Saturday.

As for red zone offense, The Citadel’s TD rate in SoCon play is only 58.3%. Its red zone TD rate in all games is considerably higher (73.5%), so sample size may be an issue when evaluating the conference numbers.

The Paladins have allowed touchdowns thirteen out of seventeen times a SoCon opponent has been in the red zone (76.4%). That number drops slightly (66.7%) when all games are taken into account.

Furman is third in the league in kickoff return average, while The Citadel is fourth in the SoCon (though only seventh when non-conference games are included).

One thing the Bulldogs did very well in Macon was prevent long returns. The Citadel’s kickoff coverage unit was outstanding against Mercer.

Among league teams, Furman is more or less average at returning punts. The Bulldogs rank last in the league in that category.

In conference games, Furman is -3 in turnover margin, while The Citadel is +2. Overall, the Paladins are -6 and the Bulldogs are -1.

The Citadel has held the ball slightly longer than its opponents in SoCon action (30:26); that number rises to 31:30 for all games. Furman is last in the league in time of possession (28:46), but has had the ball longer when all contests are included (30:20).

In conference games, The Citadel has committed nine fewer penalties than Furman, but overall the Paladins have been whistled for eight fewer infractions than the Bulldogs.

The Citadel continues to trail all league teams in the number of penalties called against their opponents. Fans of the Bulldogs are not surprised.

For the season, Furman’s offense has thrown the ball (or been sacked attempting to pass) 48.3% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for 57.1% of the Paladins’ total offense.

P.J. Blazejowski (6’0″, 182 lbs.), a freshman from St. Augustine, Florida, was probably a redshirt candidate at the beginning of the season, but once Reese Hannon was injured he became the backup quarterback for the Paladins. He has now started the last four games for Furman.

Blazejowski is completing 52.1% of his passes, averaging 5.4 yards per attempt, with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He is also Furman’s second-leading rusher, averaging 4.5 yards per carry (a number that includes sacks).

Hank McCloud is another Floridian; the redshirt senior is from Tampa. McCloud rushed for 1,092 yards last season, averaging 78 yards per game. He just about hit his average last season against The Citadel, when he ran for 77 yards.

In the 2012 game against the Bulldogs, McCloud rushed for 92 yards on only 12 carries (splitting carries with Jerodis Williams). He has been an excellent player for Furman over his career.

That 2012 contest reminded me of something I noticed from last week’s game against VMI. In both games, Furman got behind and abandoned the run game early. I thought it was a mistake to do so against The Citadel two years ago, and I have to wonder if that was true last Saturday as well.

Furman only rushed the ball 20 times against VMI (and one of those was a sack). Again, VMI entered that contest having allowed 349.5 yards per game on the ground in conference play.

The Paladins’ offensive line has been in a state of flux. Only veteran right guard Joe Turner (6’3″, 275 lbs.) has started every game. Left guard Tank Phillips (6’2″, 307 lbs.) has 24 career starts, so he also has considerable experience.

The loss of Charles Emert to a concussion was a blow for Furman, as he was versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.

Average height/weight of the projected starters on the o-line: 6’3″, 291 lbs. The heaviest of the group is 317 lb. right tackle Terrell Bush, a true freshman from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Last year, Duncan Fletcher was a quarterback for the Paladins. He was 3-3 passing for 61 yards against The Citadel, as he relieved an injured Reese Hannon in that contest. He would eventually start two games at QB.

This season, Fletcher (6’4″, 222 lbs.) is Furman’s starting tight end. He has a 28-yard touchdown reception against VMI (one of two TD catches for him this year), and leads the Paladins in receptions with 33.

Starting flanker Andrej Suttles (5’10”, 182 lbs.) has 30 receptions. Suttles caught 50 passes last season, including four against The Citadel (for 58 yards). He is also Furman’s primary punt returner, and had a 42-yard return against Western Carolina.

Jordan Snellings, the split end, is a taller receiver (6’2″, 190 lbs.), something that occasionally has been a problem for Bulldog defenders. He has 32 receptions this year, and is averaging 13.3 yards per catch. Snellings had 112 yards receiving against Western Carolina, and 111 versus Mercer.

Furman operates out of a base 4-3 defense. That may fluctuate a bit on Saturday, depending on how the Paladins line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Despite all the injuries throughout the team, Furman has had a stable front seven for most of the season.

The defensive line is anchored by Gary Wilkins (6’3″, 240 lbs.), an outstanding defensive end who was the SoCon defensive player of the month for September. The fifth-year senior has made 38 career starts (he was formerly a linebacker).

Wilkins was a preseason all-conference selection, and leads the Paladins in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (6).

There is plenty of experience on the line with Wilkins. Defensive end Ira McCune and defensive tackle John Mackey have combined to make 46 career starts, including every game this season. The other starting defensive tackle is 6’1″, 290 lb. Jordan Hawkins, a sophomore who has already started 18 games for the Paladins.

Middle linebacker T.J. Warren had three tackles for loss (including a sack) against The Citadel last season. Fellow linebacker Cory Magwood leads Furman in tackles with 93; no other Paladin has more than 53.

Marcus McMorris, a redshirt senior from Newberry, had an 89-yard interception return against Samford for a TD last season. This year, he has two interceptions, the only Paladin with multiple picks.

Jamarri Milliken and Reggie Thomas have started every game at the two cornerback positions for Furman. Thomas, at 6’0″, is the taller of the two players.

Nick Miller, a 5’9″, 167 lb. sophomore from Kennesaw, Georgia, is listed as this week’s starting free safety on Furman’s two-deep. Miller is also listed as the backup at both cornerback spots and at nickelback.

As mentioned earlier, Adekunle Olusanya is slated to start at strong safety. He is a redshirt freshman from Tampa.

Jon Croft Hollingsworth is the punter and regular placekicker for the Paladins. He is eight for fifteen on field goal attempts. While erratic, he does have a strong leg, having made a 51-yarder against Western Carolina and a 50-yarder versus Mercer (one of four field goals he made in that game).

Hollingsworth, a freshman from Greenwood, is averaging 39.9 yards per punt, with fifteen of his fifty kicks landing inside the 20-yard line. He had a punt blocked against Samford that was returned for a touchdown.

Nick Miller is one of Furman’s two kick returners. The other is Logan McCarter, a reserve wide receiver who appears to be something of a big-play threat; the redshirt freshman only has three receptions this season, but they went for 27, 36, and 34 yards (with the 36-yarder a TD catch against South Carolina State).

While discussing Furman’s injury troubles above, I referenced the personnel issues the Paladins have had when it comes to longsnapping. It is possible that could be a factor this Saturday.

The Citadel may be more inclined to put pressure on the punter (or placekicker). It is also conceivable that Furman will be more likely in certain situations to go for it on fourth down rather than punt or attempt a field goal.

Odds and ends:

– Furman has 17 players on its team from South Carolina. As is fairly typical, there are more Paladins from Georgia (32) than any other state.

Three other states have double-digit representation on the Furman football roster: Florida (15), North Carolina (12), and Tennessee (10).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 9-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 41.

Keep in mind that The Citadel has only covered the spread twice this season, against Gardner-Webb and…Florida State.

– Members of The Citadel’s basketball team will sign autographs and distribute schedule cards and posters at Johnson Hagood Stadium the hour prior to kickoff.

Also: “the team will also be handing out the 2014 adidas Citadel Homecoming t-shirts.”

– It was announced during Tuesday’s press conference that the 1990 College World Series team will be recognized at halftime on Saturday. (My thanks to WCSC-TV sportscaster Andy Pruitt for mentioning that on Twitter.)

– The honorary captain for the game will be Bill Sansom, Class of 1964.

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Wilma T. Wildcat, the mascot for Arizona.

Vote for Spike!

– This is Homecoming weekend at The Citadel. As always, there is a lot going on.

Watch out for extra traffic and parking issues on Friday, as Joe Riley is apparently making a special announcement of some sort on the parade ground at 1:00 pm ET. The longtime Charleston mayor is a member of the Class of 1964, which is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its graduation.

There are other major reunion events taking place. Rumor has it that at least one of them, that of the Class of 1989, will be particularly over-the-top (even by the standards of The Citadel).

This is not one of Furman’s better teams, to say the least, but it is a dangerous squad nonetheless, one more than capable of disappointing the home crowd on Saturday.

Last year the Paladins held The Citadel to just 132 yards rushing, and many of the players who were on the field for Furman in that game are back. While the offense has had major problems, the Paladins’ defense has mostly held up this season.

In addition, The Citadel is facing yet another dual-threat QB operating out of a spread offense. Furman has talent at the skill positions and some experience on its offensive line. It will not be an easy matchup for the Bulldogs’ D.

That said, Saturday’s game is an opportunity for The Citadel. This is a winnable game.

If the Bulldogs play like they did in the first half last week against Mercer, The Citadel will likely win. If they repeat the inconsistent and mistake-prone play of the second half of that game, however, they will almost certainly lose.

I would highly recommend the Bulldogs repeat that first-half performance.

2014 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Mercer

The Citadel vs. Mercer, to be played to be played in Macon, Georgia, at Mercer University Stadium, with kickoff at 4:00 pm ET on Saturday, November 1. The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Dan Mathews providing play-by-play, D.J. Shockley supplying the analysis, and Hannah Chalker reporting from the sidelines.

Note: this game will NOT be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

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

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

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Mercer

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston at his 10/28 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Bobby Lamb on the SoCon teleconference

Bulldogs plagued by self-inflicted mistakes

Mercer gears up for The Citadel

Mike Houston (in that above-linked “plagued by self-inflicted mistakes” article):

Saturday’s game was frustrating, because it goes back to what I said at the beginning of the season. And that is that we can win our share of games as long as we do what good football teams do.

Late in the year, good football teams take care of the football, don’t have penalties on critical downs and play good, fundamentally sound defense. And although we did some good things Saturday, we didn’t do those things that we needed to.

This is especially true when there is less margin for error, as is normally the case for varsity teams at The Citadel. When the Bulldogs turn the ball over three times in their opponents’ territory, and commit two false-start penalties when preparing to go for it on 4th down — well, they aren’t going to win many games, particularly on the road.

Frustrating is a good word for The Citadel’s performance against Western Carolina. The Bulldogs were ready to play last Saturday against the Catamounts. The effort was there. The execution was not.

In my game preview I wrote that I wanted to see “crisp play on both sides of the ball”. It wasn’t quite present in Cullowhee, at least from the Bulldogs’ perspective, and so the result was another loss.

The offense had the aforementioned turnover and penalty issues. As for the defense, one statistic sums up the day: Western Carolina averaged 9.6 yards per play.

The Citadel has to get better if it wants to record another victory this season. That’s the bottom line.

What is now Mercer University was founded in 1833. The school was originally located in Penfield, Georgia, a small town between Atlanta and Augusta. The campus relocated to Macon in 1871.

The institution is named for Jesse Mercer, a Baptist leader who was the first chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees. The college was originally established by Baptists, but no longer has an affiliation with the denomination.

MU has about 4,400 undergraduate students and almost 4,000 graduate/professional students. They are enrolled at twelve different colleges located in Macon (the primary campus), Savannah, and Atlanta.

Mercer has over 68,000 alumni. Its most notorious graduate is probably Nancy Grace.

Obviously, Mercer is new to the SoCon, so just to quickly recap some varsity athletics particulars:

– The school fields teams in 17 of the league’s 20 sports. The exceptions are men’s track and field (both indoor and outdoor) and wrestling.

– Mercer also has varsity squads in two sports that are not sponsored by the SoCon: women’s lacrosse and sand volleyball.

In ’92, Mercer played its first college football game.

That would be 1892. In January of that year, the Bears played Georgia in Athens, losing 50-0.

Mercer may have lost the game, but it acquired a nickname/mascot. Well, allegedly:

The choice of the bear as Mercer’s mascot is said to have been prompted by a University of Georgia football player. In that first football game between the two schools, one of the Georgia players saw a Mercer player burst through the line of scrimmage and exclaimed, “Whence cometh that bear?”

If you really believe that a football player at Georgia said “Whence cometh” while a play was in progress, I have a washed-out bridge in Adams Run to sell you. It strikes me as a latter-day explanation provided by the sports information director of a bygone era, someone inspired by Epicurus or the Bible.

Two months after the Georgia game, Mercer played the Savannah Catholic Library Association, losing 20-2.

The Bears’ first victory came in November of 1892, when they defeated Georgia Tech 12-6. The contest (which was Tech’s first-ever football game) was played in a local Macon park.

Mercer played once in 1893, losing 10-6 in a rematch with Georgia Tech played in Atlanta. The coach of the Bears for that game was George Tweedy Stallings, who had recently finished his regular job for the year, that of a professional baseball player. Stallings also served as the Bears’ baseball coach during this period.

He would play only seven major league games, but still managed to carve out his place in baseball history. Stallings managed the 1914 “Miracle Braves” of Boston, a team that was in last place in the National League on Independence Day before surging to the NL pennant. The Braves then swept the heavily-favored Philadelphia A’s in four straight games to win the World Series.

For that accomplishment, Stallings was known for the rest of his life as “The Miracle Man”.

Incidentally, Stallings is not the most famous baseball coach in Mercer history. Cy Young coached at Mercer from 1903-1905.

(One more note on Stallings: some references list him as a graduate of VMI. However, there is apparently no evidence Stallings ever attended that school.)

Mercer started playing football games on a regular basis in 1906, when it joined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The football program would move to the Dixie Conference in 1930.

That victory over Georgia Tech in 1892 would be the only one Mercer ever recorded against the Yellow Jackets, as the Bears lost 15 of the other 16 games in the series (one matchup ended in a tie). Mercer was 0-22 versus Georgia.

The Bears were more competitive against another bunch of Bulldogs, winning four of eleven games against The Citadel (with one tie). The teams played six times in a seven-year period between 1925-31, meeting in several different locations (Charleston, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah).

That 1931 game would prove to be the last between the two programs until this season. Mercer would disband its football program following the 1941 campaign, never restarting the sport after World War II — not until last year, that is.

On November 19, 2010, Mercer’s Board of Trustees voted to reinstate varsity football, though not as a scholarship sport. The school hired former Furman head coach Bobby Lamb to lead the program two months later.

Lamb signed his first class of recruits in February of 2012, with an eye on competing in the Pioneer League (which had accepted Mercer as a member). However, when the school announced in May of 2013 that it was joining the SoCon (beginning with the 2014-15 school year), it also stated that it would transition to scholarship football. Lamb thus did not sign a full class of scholarship recruits until February 2014.

Mercer also built a new football/lacrosse complex. The 10,000-seat Mercer University Stadium opened for gridiron activity in 2013 with more fans in the stands than seats, as 12,171 supporters watched the Bears defeated Reinhardt 40-37 in the school’s first football game since 1941.

The Bears would finish last season with a 10-2 record, winning their first four contests before losing at San Diego. Mercer’s other loss last season came on the road against another Pioneer League opponent, Marist.

Not coincidentally, USD and Marist were two of the three best teams in the Pioneer League in 2013 (along with Butler). Arguably the best win of the season for Mercer was its victory over Drake.

Mercer opened this season with a back-and-forth, who-has-the-ball-last kind of game, a 45-42 home triumph over Reinhardt (which is an NAIA school in Georgia). There were ten lead changes in the contest.

The following week, the Bears lost 25-20 to Furman, the Paladins’ first game after losing starting quarterback Reese Hannon to a season-ending injury. The key play in the game was a pick-six by Furman in the fourth quarter.

MU rolled in its next two games, winning at Stetson 49-0 and pummeling Ave Maria of the NAIA 42-21 (the Bears led the Gyrenes 42-7 at halftime). Mercer then won its first SoCon game, a 27-24 triumph at VMI in which a last-minute interception near the goal line preserved the victory.

Mercer has lost three of its last four games, all conference matchups. The lone victory in that stretch was a 49-21 walloping of Austin Peay.

Samford defeated the Bears 21-18. The score was 21-10 with a minute remaining when Chandler Curtis (more on him later) returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown. A subsequent onside kick was recovered by the homestanding Birmingham Bulldogs.

Turnovers and penalties doomed Mercer against Western Carolina (sound familiar?). The Catamounts won in Macon, 35-21.

Last week, the Bears lost at Chattanooga 38-31. Mercer trailed 35-14 before mounting a comeback, but couldn’t quite reel in the Mocs.

General statistics for consideration, Mercer’s offense/The Citadel’s defense:

Mercer has passed (or been sacked on passing plays) 39% of the time. Passing yardage accounts for just over 50% of the Bears’ total offense.

MU leads the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency and total offense. It is second in scoring offense, and third in rushing offense.

One caveat: While Mercer is averaging 33.6 points per game overall, that number drops to 23.4 points per game in league play.

Mercer is averaging 5.1 yards per rush and a SoCon-high 8.9 yards per pass attempt, which combined have resulted in a league-leading 6.5 yards per play.

The Citadel ranks next-to-last in the league in scoring, rushing, and total defense, and last in passing defense  and pass efficiency defense. The Bulldogs are allowing 5.3 yards per rush and 8.4 yards per pass attempt, which adds up to 6.6 yards per play.

The 63-56 2OT game against Charlotte skews those numbers slightly, but the Bulldogs have not played well on defense in the two games following the matchup with the 49ers either. The statistics bear that out.

Despite the fact that the Bears lead the conference in first downs per game (20.4), Mercer has not been all that successful on third down. Its conversion rate of 35.4% ranks behind every other SoCon team except Furman. Saturday’s matchup may be a case of the stoppable force versus the movable object, however, as The Citadel’s defense ranks last in opponents’ third-down conversion rate (an unsightly 49.2%).

MU’s offense has a red zone touchdown rate of 69%, while the Bulldogs are second-best in the SoCon with a defensive red zone TD rate of 51%.

Mercer is +3 for the season in turnover margin, a number that is mostly to the credit of the Bears’ defense. Only two SoCon offenses have turned the ball over more often than Mercer.

The Citadel’s defense did intercept its first two passes of the campaign last week, but the Bulldogs still rank last in the conference in turnovers forced.

General statistics for consideration, Mercer’s defense/The Citadel’s offense:

Mercer is fifth in the league in scoring defense, sixth in total defense and pass defense, fourth in rushing defense, and third in defensive pass efficiency. The differential between passing defense and defensive pass efficiency can be partly explained by the Bears’ league-leading nine interceptions.

MU is allowing 4.4 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt, resulting in a 5.7 yards/play average.

The Citadel leads the league in rushing offense and is fourth in total offense. The Bulldogs are just sixth in scoring offense, however, and are next-to-last in passing offense (and last in offensive pass efficiency).

From a per-play perspective, The Citadel is last in the league in passing yards per attempt (5.8) and second in yards per rush (5.3). Overall, the Bulldogs are tied for fifth in yards per play (5.4).

The Citadel leads the SoCon in third-down conversion rate, at 49.2%. Mercer’s D is middle-of-the-pack in that category (39.9%).

The Bulldogs are scoring touchdowns 71% of the time when they enter the red zone. Conversely, MU’s defense is allowing TDs at a 60% clip once an opponent advances inside the 20-yard line.

Mercer is tied for the league lead in forced turnovers, with 18 (including the aforementioned nine interceptions). The Citadel’s offense is tied with Wofford for fewest turnovers committed (nine).

The odds that Mercer’s D records a sack in this game are probably not good. The Citadel’s offense has only given up a sack twice this season, while the Bears are tied for last in defensive sacks.

General statistics for consideration, special teams and miscellaneous-but-interesting:

Mercer leads the conference in punt return average, with a ludicrous 20.7 yards per return (which also ranks third nationally). The Bears have three punt return touchdowns (and also a kickoff return TD).

The Citadel is last in kick return average.

The Bulldogs have made seven of their eight field goal attempts, while Mercer is only five for ten on FG tries.

Mercer is apparently adept at drawing penalties, as opponents have committed 75 infractions while playing the Bears this season, a number that leads the SoCon. The Citadel is the exact opposite, as it ranks last in the league in opponents’ penalty yardage (and next-to-last in total opponent penalties).

The Citadel leads the conference in time of possession. The Bears are next-to-last in that category.

Mercer has a young roster, which is what happens when you’re only playing your second year of football since 1941. Mike Houston made a good point in his weekly press conference, however.

He noted this is Mercer’s third year (in terms of signing classes) and that more than 50% of the roster is the same age as Bulldog regulars like Mitchell Jeter and Nick Willis.

One example: free safety Lendell Arnold (who Houston recruited while coaching at Lenoir-Rhyne) originally attended Air Force’s preparatory school. He is a now a sophomore who will turn 22 in two weeks.

Bobby Lamb mentioned during the SoCon teleconference that Mercer currently has about 38 total scholarships in its program (presumably made up of full and partial offers, though he didn’t specify that).

John Russ (6’0″, 199 lbs.) leads the Southern Conference in passing touchdowns, with sixteen (he has been intercepted eight times). A native of Buford, Georgia, Russ leads the SoCon in pass efficiency as well.

He is completing 58% of his throws, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. In his second year as a starter, Russ has developed a reputation as a fine downfield passer. Mercer is averaging 15.5 yards per pass completion, fifth-highest in all of FCS.

Running back Alex Lakes leads the conference in rushing at 102.6 yards per game, and is also tied for the SoCon lead in rushing touchdowns with twelve. He is averaging an impressive 6.2 yards per carry, and was named the SoCon Player of the Month for September.

Lakes is from Newnan, Georgia. He spent one semester at AFA’s prep school, then wound up at West Georgia the following spring, playing defense.

When Mercer announced it was going to play scholarship football, Lakes moved to the Macon school (where he had made a previous visit) to play running back, redshirting during his first year on campus.

Mercer has another big-play running back in 5’10”, 186 lb. freshman Tee Mitchell, who played high school football at The Bolles School in Jacksonville. Mitchell had an 80-yard touchdown reception against Austin Peay and a 74-yard TD catch versus Chattanooga. He also had a 41-yard run against VMI.

Chandler Curtis (5’10”, 186 lbs.) isn’t listed as a starting wideout on the Bears’ depth chart, but don’t let that fool you. He is an impact player of a very high order.

The freshman has twenty receptions, two rushes, nine punt returns, and twelve kick returns. Ten of those forty-three “touches” have resulted in touchdowns.

He leads all of FCS in return TDs with four, including a 99-yard punt return against Samford. When is the last time you saw a guy return a punt 99 yards?

Quite a few of Curtis’ big plays have come against Mercer’s non-conference opponents, but he is not just bullying outclassed teams. Curtis has four 40+ yard receptions in league play.

Mercer got some bad news earlier this week, when it was revealed that leading receiver J.T. Palmer would miss the rest of the season with a hand injury. The junior had 39 catches (five for TDs).

Tight end Robert Brown has had his share of injury problems as well, but had 49- and 35-yard receptions last week against Chattanooga. The product of Nashville is not the largest TE in the world (6’1″, 218 lbs.), but he has a habit of making big plays (averaging 18.6 yards per catch).

Brown’s primary backup, Derek Owings, is a bigger tight end (6’3″, 248 lbs.) who has started three games this season. He spent two years at Eastern Michigan before heading south to Macon.

Mercer’s offensive line has been largely unchanged through most of the season. Average height and weight of the starters: 6’2″, 288 lbs.

Right tackle A.M. Posey is the biggest of the group, at 6’6″, 321 lbs. He began his collegiate career at Tennessee. Kirby Southard has started at center for every game over the past two seasons.

Mercer usually lines up in a 3-4 on defense. As always, things may be different when a team faces a triple option offense.

Defensive end Tunde Ayinla is second on the squad in tackles for loss, with 4.5. He also shares the team lead in sacks with two.

Nosetackle Bret Niederreither is one of two players on the Bears’ roster who played high school football north of the Mason-Dixon line (Derek Owings is the other). The 6’3″, 290 lb. Pennsylvania native transferred to Mercer from Temple.

“Bandit” linebacker Kyle Williams leads the team in tackles for loss, with six. Like several Mercer players, he spent a year at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.

Devin Davidson is third on the team in tackles. He’s a 6’1″, 218 lb. sophomore linebacker from Suwanee, Georgia.

Middle linebacker Tyler Ward (6’1″, 231 lbs.) is a hometown kid, having played at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon. He has been the Bears’ MLB since day 1 and currently leads the team in tackles by an enormous margin (he has 82; the second-highest total is 48).

That 48-tackle total belongs to Alex Avant (5’8″, 170 lbs.), a cornerback who (like Ward) has started every game for Mercer over the last two seasons. He played one season at Tuskegee before moving to Mercer. Avant has 14 pass breakups and three interceptions this season.

Strong safety Mike Gray is from Jacksonville. He is another player who has started every game for Bobby Lamb at Mercer.

Three different placekickers have attempted field goals for Mercer this season; each has a 50% success rate.

Jagger Lieb is listed as the starter this Saturday. He has a season long of 42 yards, and is 3 for 6 overall in field goal tries.

Tyler Zielenske is the starting punter, though Rob East (who also holds on placekicks) has the most punts for the Bears in 2013. He’s listed as the backup punter this week.

Will Roper, who handles the kickoffs, is the only senior on the Mercer roster. For the past three seasons, Roper served as the kickoff specialist at South Carolina State.

I mentioned Chandler Curtis’ return heroics earlier in the post. The regular lead kick returner for the Bears is Payton Usher, a 5’7″, 173 lb. backup running back. In limited time, Usher is averaging 8.0 yards per carry.

Odds and ends:

– The second annual Medal of Honor bowl, an all-star game played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, will be nationally televised this year by NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). That should give the game a welcome boost; for one thing, it will likely attract more quality players as a result.

– Mercer has 63 players on its roster from Georgia, 14 from Florida, 6 from Tennessee, 3 from Alabama, 2 from North Carolina, and one each from Michigan and Pennsylvania — but none from South Carolina.

– For the second week in a row, The Citadel will be a school’s Homecoming opponent.

Bobby Lamb expects an electric atmosphere.

“There’s nothing like coming home,” Lamb said about this week’s game. “From what I’m hearing, the homecoming numbers are off the charts and people being back on campus. There’s lot of excitement, and I think we’re going to have great weather.

“This late in the season, we need this, and we need the support to try to finish this season on a positive note.”

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4-point favorite on Saturday. The over/under is 56.

– This week in the Capital One Mascot Challenge, Spike The Bulldog faces Benny Beaver, the mascot for Oregon State University.

Vote for Spike!

For the fourth week in a row, the Bulldogs face a team with a dual-threat quarterback who has a lot of options at the skill positions. The defense has not fared well against the previous three squads.

Anyone less than certain about Mercer’s offensive chops should check out the statistics from the Bears’ game last week against Chattanooga. Mercer rolled up 440 yards in total offense against the Mocs, averaging a very healthy 6.7 yards per play.

On offense, I think there will be opportunities for The Citadel. Mercer struggled against Reinhardt’s wing-T offense, allowing 270 rush yards and 469 total yards. That strikes me as promising from the Bulldogs’ perspective.

Ultimately, I’m not confident in The Citadel’s chances on Saturday. The offense has to prove that besides moving the ball, it can hold on to the pigskin. It also has to avoid the killer penalties that have derailed so many potential scoring drives this season.

The defense has to get pressure on the quarterback, and get off the field on third down. Winning the turnover battle would also come in handy.

If The Citadel plays at the level it did against Western Carolina, taking into account all factors (consistency/penalties/turnovers/big plays), the Bulldogs will probably lose. If the team plays like it did against Chattanooga, the Bulldogs will lose badly.

Here is hoping that the team can get better. If it does, the Bulldogs will win this Saturday.

Improve or worsen. There are no other options.

2014 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played to be played in Cullowhee, North Carolina, on the grounds of Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 25. The game will not be televised. 

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

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

WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station for The Citadel Sports Network. The pregame show and game broadcast will be produced by Jay Harper, who will also provide updates on other college football action.

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston at his 10/21 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Great starts key great start for WCU football

Carson Smith was reinstated by the SoCon on Wednesday, following an appeal by The Citadel to the league’s executive committee. This will allow Smith to participate in Saturday’s game against Western Carolina.

I’m glad the executive committee made the right decision. Obviously, it would have been nice if the call on the field had not been botched in the first place, but you can’t have everything. Smith will presumably be more than ready to go against the Catamounts after missing almost the entire Chattanooga contest following the errant ejection.

The league’s press release was rather perfunctory, consisting of only eight sentences. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea for the SoCon to include an explanation from the committee as to why it overturned the suspension, but to be honest I wasn’t expecting an angry screed from the conference about the injustice of the situation.

That’s my job.

You may recall that last year, Western Carolina played what I called “Division I’s most absurd schedule”, as it faced three FBS squads (Middle Tennessee State, Virginia Tech, and Auburn) and two transitional FBS schools (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern), all on the road. This, after having not beaten a Division I team of any kind (FBS or FCS) since September of 2010.

That was last year. WCU eventually did pick up that elusive D1 victory later in 2013 (beating Elon in OT at Homecoming), but finished with a 2-10 record.

In 2014, things have changed. Western Carolina is still loading up on FBS opponents, with two this season (South Florida in the opener, Alabama in the finale), but the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

The Citadel has won eight of its last ten meetings with the Catamounts, but clearly is going to have to get better going forward to continue having the upper hand in this series. That’s okay, though; the military college has to get better on the gridiron anyway.

While there is no question that Western Carolina has improved, I’m a little uncertain as to the level of improvement. WCU has defeated two non-D1 schools (Brevard and Catawba), a team with QB injury problems (Furman), and a conference debutant (Mercer).

However, the Catamounts can also claim a 26-14 home victory over Wofford. In that game, WCU ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt, forced a fumble when the Terriers had 2nd-and-goal on the 1, and picked up a safety on another Wofford miscue.

Western Carolina actually had fewer total yards than the Terriers. On the other hand, Wofford had averaged 430 rushing yards in its previous eight games against the Catamounts, but was held to 270 yards on the ground this time. Wofford also had no aerial attack in that contest, completing just one pass for three yards.

That is an impressive defensive performance.

WCU’s season opener was a loss to South Florida in which the Catamounts led at halftime and only lost by five points (36-31). Western Carolina quarterback Troy Mitchell was 46-66 (not a typo) passing for 374 yards against the Bulls.

Mark Speir had a notable quote after that game, which after all was a very solid effort against an FBS program:

There will be no more moral victories in Cullowhee. You either win or you lose. We lost.

The Catamounts’ other defeat came at Presbyterian by a 19-14 score. PC won that game thanks mostly to a pair of pick-sixes, including one in the last two minutes of the game. Western Carolina outgained the Blue Hose 359-222, but couldn’t overcome five turnovers (including four interceptions).

The dynamics of the reshuffled SoCon and the loss to Presbyterian combine to make it difficult to assess just how good Western Carolina is this year. In all fairness, though, PC is 3-1 against FCS opposition so far this season. The Blue Hose spoiled Charleston Southern’s homecoming last week, suggesting Harold Nichols has turned the corner in Clinton.

Some general statistics for consideration:

Western Carolina has passed (or been sacked attempting to throw the ball) on 42.9% of its plays. It should be noted, though, that 53.5% of WCU’s total offense has come via the air; the Catamounts are second in the SoCon in offensive pass efficiency.

WCU is third in the SoCon in scoring offense and (perhaps more surprisingly) second in the league in scoring defense. Western Carolina is third in both total offense and defense in the conference.

The Catamounts are averaging 4.5 yards per rush and 7.4 yards per pass attempt; those numbers combine for  a 5.7 yards/play average. As a comparison, The Citadel’s offense has a 5.4 yards/play average, while the Bulldogs’ D is allowing 6.1 yards per snap.

WCU’s defense leads the league in defensive pass efficiency, but is only sixth-best in rush D. The Catamounts are allowing 4.5 yards per rush, a higher average than any SoCon squad except VMI and (sigh) The Citadel.

Western Carolina leads the SoCon in kickoff return average and is second in interceptions (conversely, The Citadel’s defense has yet to pick off a pass in 2014). WCU’s kickoff coverage unit isn’t nearly as good as its return team, as it’s next-to-last in the league.

WCU is the second-most penalized team in the league. However, The Citadel is last in the league in opponents’ penalty yardage.

The Bulldogs simply don’t force the opposition to make mistakes that result in penalties. Either that, or officials are simply less inclined to flag teams playing The Citadel; you be the judge.*

The Citadel and Western Carolina are 1-2 in the conference in third-down conversion rate (47.5% for the Bulldogs, 44.9% for the Catamounts). While Western Carolina’s D is middle-of-the-pack in third-down conversion rate against (39.6%), The Citadel is dead last in that category (a very poor 49.5%).

The Catamounts have dominated fourth down in 2014, converting 8 of 11 tries on offense and only allowing 4 of 12 conversions on defense. Both marks lead the conference.

Western Carolina’s offensive red zone touchdown rate is 73.9%, tied for the second-highest mark in the league (The Citadel’s offensive RZ TD rate: 72.4%). Defensively, WCU has a red zone TD rate of 52.4%; The Citadel’s 50% defensive TD rate in the red zone is the SoCon’s best.

*I threw that last line in for the commish.

Troy Mitchell is the starting quarterback for the Catamounts, and the key to WCU’s offense. He has been playing hurt in recent weeks, but Mark Speir downplayed that in the SoCon media teleconference:

“He’s a lot better. He threw the ball well last week, had the zip back on his passes. He gets a little bit sore, but is having no pain. I would say he was about 90-to-95-percent last week. With our athletic trainers, he’s done a great job in rehabbing. He’s back to 100-percent, Troy’s at full speed.”

Mitchell (6’0″, 205 lbs.) is a dual-threat quarterback, especially against The Citadel. The native of Houston has two career 100-yard rushing games; both have come versus the Bulldogs. In last season’s game, Mitchell was also 16-22 passing against The Citadel for 136 yards and a TD (with one interception).

This season, he is completing 65.4% of his passes, averaging 7.3 yards per attempt. Mitchell has thrown eleven touchdown passes while only being intercepted three times.

His rushing numbers in 2014 are relatively modest, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt, and 43 rush yards per game. That’s still the third-highest rush yardage total for the Catamounts.

Backup QB Garrett Brown has appeared in all seven games thus far for Western Carolina, and will likely see action on Saturday as well. Brown has changed roles a couple of times during his career in Cullowhee, having played running back and receiver as well as quarterback. As a freshman in 2011, he caught a 61-yard TD pass against The Citadel (and like this week’s contest, that was WCU’s homecoming game).

Darius Ramsey is the primary running back for WCU. Like Mitchell, Ramsey is a junior, one of many third-year players who have “grown up” in Mark Speir’s program. Also like Mitchell, Ramsey has two 100-yard rushing games on his résumé against The Citadel, having run for 118 yards in 2012 versus the Bulldogs and 102 yards in last season’s matchup (scoring two touchdowns).

Western Carolina has experience and productivity at the wide receiver position. Spearman Robinson (6’4″, 215 lbs.) has eight touchdown receptions this season. He had 120 yards receiving and two touchdowns against Furman, and added three more scores (and 102 receiving yards) last week versus Mercer. He’s a major threat.

Spearman Robinson (who is from Greenwood, SC) is one of two wideouts named Robinson who start for WCU, with sophomore Terryon Robinson being the other. Terryon Robinson and Spearman Robinson (not related) both have 28 receptions for the Catamounts so far this season.

Despite not having the surname Robinson, Karnorris Benson is still allowed to start at wide receiver for Western Carolina. That’s probably because Benson caught 12 touchdown passes last season, tying a school record. He’s missed some time this season, but was back for the Mercer game, catching his first TD pass of the campaign.

Western Carolina’s starting offensive line averages 6’2″, 281 lbs. It is made up primarily of third- and fourth-year players, though left guard Ethan James is a sophomore.

Right tackle Josh Wineberg is the tallest of the group, at 6’6″. He was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection. Starting center Jake Thornton is the grandson of former Buffalo Bills guard Billy Shaw, a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Tangent: Billy Shaw is the only player in the Hall to have never played in the NFL, having spent his entire career (1960-1969) in the AFL.

Western Carolina’s defense normally operates out of the 4-3, though as always that is subject to change given The Citadel’s triple option attack.

Defensive end Caleb Hawkins (6’3″ 255 lbs.) leads the team in tackles for loss, with 6 1/2. Rapidly improving defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 280 lbs.) is a native of Kenya who played Rugby 7s before trying American football at Western Carolina.

Noseguard Ezavian Dunn is a 6’2″ 315 lb. true freshman who has started three games this season for the Catamounts, including the last two. He blocked a field goal attempt against Wofford.

Linebacker Christon Gill has 63 tackles, most on the squad. He also leads WCU in sacks with three (two of which came versus Mercer last week).

Daniel Riddle is the Catamounts’ second-leading tackler. The linebacker is a question mark for the game on Saturday after suffering a shoulder injury against Mercer (though he is listed on WCU’s depth chart as a potential starter).

Sertonuse Harris was a safety in 2013; this year, he’s an impact linebacker. So far this season, Harris has six tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, and two fumble recoveries.

The Catamounts have a fine secondary, led by sophomore cornerback Trey Morgan (who has four interceptions to lead the conference). Morgan is from North Augusta, and is one of seven South Carolinians on Western Carolina’s roster.

Strong safety Ace Clark has good size (6’3″, 220 lbs.) and athleticism (he blocked a field goal attempt against The Citadel last year). Clark was a second-team all-SoCon pick by the league’s coaches following last season.

Sophomore safety Bryson Jordan is the son of former Falcon/Brave Brian Jordan.

Placekicker Richard Sigmon has only attempted three field goals this season, making all three (with a long of 33). He is also perfect on PATs. Last season, Sigmon was 10-13 on field goal attempts, and did not miss from inside 39 yards (8-8).

Sigmon has shared kickoff duties this season with Mark Powell.

Destry Barnwell is a true freshman from Charlotte who has done all the punting for Western Carolina this season. Barnwell is averaging 40.0 yards per punt, with eight of his thirty-three punts landing inside the 20-yard line (he also has four touchbacks).

Backup running back Detrez Newsome is the primary kick returner, and he’s a good one. He is averaging over 30 yards per return and took one back 100 yards for a TD to open the game against Wofford.

Terryon Robinson or Garrett Brown will serve as WCU’s punt returner on Saturday, as regular return man C.J. Goodman is out.

Odds and ends:

– Next season, Western Carolina will again play multiple FBS opponents. WCU will square off against Texas A&M and Tennessee in 2015.

– The game against The Citadel on Saturday will be Western Carolina’s Homecoming. The Catamounts and Bulldogs have met six times during Homecoming in Cullowhee; The Citadel is 5-1 in those games, with WCU’s sole victory coming in 2009.

Western Carolina was 0-5 entering that 2009 game, but defeated the Bulldogs 14-10 in one of the more inept offensive performances of the Kevin Higgins era.

– The Citadel also lost to WCU the following season, in 2010, which was the last time the Catamounts had beaten a Division I program until last year’s game against Elon.

– Bob Waters Field is an artificial surface. The most recent change in the field came in 2008, with the installation of Desso Challenge Pro 2 turf, a “nylon-like, woven base interlaced with synthetic ‘blades of grass’ that are approximately two inches in length.”

– Western Carolina’s nickname (“Catamounts”) was chosen in 1933. The second choice was “Mountain Boomers”. How great a nickname would “Mountain Boomers” have been? Oh, WCU, you missed a chance there.

Before adopting the “Catamounts” moniker, Western Carolina’s teams were known as the “Teachers” and also (according to some reports) the “Yodelers”.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, WCU is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel on Saturday. The over/under is 56.

– Spike The Bulldog is 6-2 so far in the Capital One Mascot Challenge. This week, his opponent is Boise State’s Buster Bronco.

Vote for Spike!

This is going to be a tough game for the Bulldogs. Western Carolina’s program has been imbued with a confidence that hasn’t really existed in Cullowhee in about a decade.

The players expect to win, and so does the fan base. My understanding is that Whitmire Stadium will be filled close to capacity on Saturday, so the atmosphere should be excellent.

I expect a fair number of blue-clad fans will be in attendance on what promises to be a beautiful day in the mountains. I can’t be among them this week, alas.

That’s okay, though. What is much more important is that the team comes ready to play.

When I watch the game on the SoCon Digital Network (hopefully figuring out a way to “simulcast” it with Mike Legg and Lee Glaze on the radio call), I expect to see spirit and commitment, things that appeared to be absent during the Chattanooga game. That is imperative.

I also want to see crisp play on both sides of the ball. For each and every game, I expect to see improvement in the team’s play. That obviously didn’t happen last week.

If things don’t get better, the Bulldogs won’t have much of a chance. However, I suspect The Citadel will rebound this week. If it does, I think there is an opportunity to pull off a road victory on Saturday.

Go Dogs!

2014 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Charlotte

Edit 10/12/2014 — The followup post: Game review, 2014: Charlotte

The Citadel vs. Charlotte, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on Saturday, October 11. The game will not be televised.

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

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

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

Links of interest:

Game notes for The Citadel and Charlotte

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston 10/7 press conference

Mike Houston on the SoCon media teleconference

Video clip of Brad Lambert’s 10/7 press conference

49ers face undesirable option

Mitchell Jeter is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week

Profile of DeAndre Schoultz by The Aiken Standard

Mike Houston said of his team and the game against Wofford that “we’re moving on“, and that’s fine with me. That’s not to say the ruling on the game’s final play will be forgotten. There will always be a giant asterisk associated with that contest.

This week’s opponent is Charlotte. I grew up referring to the school as “UNC Charlotte” or “UNCC”.

Now, however, the school wishes to be referred to simply as “Charlotte”, at least for its sports teams. The actual name of the institution remains the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

It might surprise some people to know that the change to “Charlotte” for varsity athletics was actually made in 2000. I think it’s fair to say that it’s taken a while to catch on as the default name. Of course, continuing to call the school “UNC Charlotte” in other arenas has probably made it harder to get everyone on board with the move.

In this post, I’ll mostly call the football team “Charlotte” or the “49ers”. I’ll throw in an occasional “UNCC”, though, in honor of the great Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell.

The city of Charlotte had wanted a public school to call its own since the end of the Civil War, but it had to wait a while. When the State of North Carolina decided to establish a land-grant college in 1887 (after an argument over the terms of the Morrill Land-Grant Act), the location of the new school was in play.

However, Charlotte lost out to Raleigh, which became the home of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. That school is now known, of course, as North Carolina State University.

In 1946, North Carolina opened fourteen evening college centers across the state in an attempt to meet the educational demand created by returning World War II veterans. One of the fourteen centers was in Charlotte.

Three years later, the state closed the schools, but the Charlotte Center was taken over by the city and renamed Charlotte College, operating as a two-year program. That takeover-and-survival happened in 1949, and is the primary reason the university’s sports teams are now called the 49ers.

The college moved to its current campus in 1961, became a four-year school in 1964, and was made part of the UNC university system in 1965. It is now the fourth-largest school in the system and has over 27,000 students, including 21,500 undergraduates.

While this is the second year of Charlotte’s modern-day football program, the school actually fielded teams in 1946, 1947, and 1948. They were known as the “Owls” (due to the students attending classes at night) and played other schools’ JV squads.

In 1947, the Owls played a Thanksgiving Day game against a team called the “Brookland-Cayce All-Stars” in Columbia. The coach that season was a former guard at Clemson named Marion “Footsie” Woods.

Why did the school decide to start (or technically, re-start) a football program? Chancellor Philip Dubois:

This is a long-term strategic plan that will pay huge dividends for students, alumni, faculty and staff at this vibrant university. It will foster a full university experience that many students crave as undergraduates.

It also will help build closer relationships with our growing ranks of UNC Charlotte alumni and the greater Charlotte community. Despite the economic challenges facing us all, this university is growing by leaps and bounds. We expect to have 35,000 students on campus by 2020 and we have strong support for football. We expect that will grow even stronger as we get closer to making it a reality.

Another factor may have been trying to create a common bond among students at what is still in many respects a commuter school (only 24% of undergraduates live on campus). Then there was the sentiment expressed by at least one alumnus:

For us to be a real school, and for us to have a college community that schools with football have, we had to have football.

Originally, Charlotte was going to be an FCS program, with no real designs (at least officially) on moving up to FBS. That changed in a hurry. From May of 2012:

A source with knowledge of the football-driven situation confirmed to the Observer on Tuesday afternoon that the 49ers will return to the league they played in from 1995-2005…

…The timing of Charlotte’s move is not known. The 49ers begin playing football in 2013 as an FCS (formerly I-AA) independent and must stay at that level for at least two years before moving up to FBS. Charlotte’s other sports programs could conceivably join CUSA earlier than that.

That is exactly what happened. (Another move mentioned in the linked blog post that didn’t happen: a CUSA-Mountain West merger. Uh, no.)

Next season Charlotte’s football program will begin competing in CUSA. Is it ready for that jump?

So far, the 49ers’ progress on the gridiron has arguably been a little slower than fellow CUSA startups Old Dominion and UTSA. ODU won seven games against scholarship D-1 programs in its second season, while UTSA won eight games in its second campaign, including five against FBS teams.

To be fair, it’s still early. The rest of Year 2, and the following seasons to come, will tell the tale.

Charlotte was 5-6 in 2013. The 49ers made their debut at Jerry Richardson Stadium with a 52-7 thrashing of Campbell, part of a 4-2 start to the season that included a a 42-21 win at Presbyterian and a dramatic, come-from-way-behind 53-51 victory over Gardner-Webb. In the latter contest, Charlotte trailed by 21 points entering the fourth quarter, but scored 29 points in the final period (including touchdowns on three consecutive offensive plays) to get the win.

The rest of the year was a bit of a struggle, however. Charlotte lost four straight games, including sizable defeats to UNC-Pembroke, Charleston Southern, and Coastal Carolina. The 49ers also lost to Division III Wesley College before closing their initial campaign with a resounding 61-17 victory over Morehead State.

UNCC opened this year by winning at Campbell 33-9, then hammering Johnson C. Smith 56-0. The 49ers followed that up with a 40-28 victory over North Carolina Central, though there were warning signs despite the triumph.

In that game, Charlotte led 40-0 after three quarters, but had to put its starters back on the field later in the fourth quarter to ensure its large lead wouldn’t be completely blown.

The next game was a matchup at Elon, and the 49ers lost their first game of the season 20-13. Charleston Southern then came to town and left with a 47-41 OT victory, a contest that Charlotte trailed 34-17 before making a valiant comeback.

Last week, the 49ers went to Gardner-Webb and lost 27-24, scoring a late TD to pull within three points, but never getting the ball back after the Runnin’ Bulldogs recovered an onside kick. Charlotte is now 3-3 on the season.

The head coach of the 49ers is Brad Lambert, who was a defensive back at Kansas State in the mid-1980s before beginning a career as a college coach. Lambert was on Jim Donnan’s staffs at Marshall and Georgia before taking a job as Jim Grobe’s linebackers coach at Wake Forest in 2000.

Six years later, Wake Forest would win an improbable ACC title and play in the Orange Bowl. The following season, Lambert would become the Demon Deacons’ defensive coordinator. The job with the 49ers is Lambert’s first head coaching position.

On offense, Charlotte runs a no-huddle, hurry-up spread offense. The 49ers run the ball 58% of the time, but 54% of their total yardage has come via the pass.

The pass completion rate is 51%, averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. Charlotte has thrown seven touchdown passes, but has been intercepted ten times. The 49ers are averaging 5.4 yards per rush.

In its last three games (all losses), Charlotte really struggled on third down. The 49ers were 5-15 against Elon, 2-9 against Charleston Southern, and 2-14 against Gardner-Webb.

One thing that stands out about Charlotte’s numbers are the number of plays from scrimmage, both for the 49ers and their opponents, particularly in relation to time of possession.

UNCC is averaging 68.3 offensive plays per game, which is not an exceptional amount. However, it’s actually a high rate when you consider that Charlotte has a time of possession average of only 24:40. Opponents have had the ball almost eleven minutes more per game than the 49ers.

Charlotte’s offense is thus running 2.77 plays per minute, which is a very high number. For comparison, Coastal Carolina (which likes to line up and go, too) averaged 2.57 plays per game in 2013.

So far this season, The Citadel’s offense is averaging 2.23 plays per minute (last year, that number was 2.03).

This has a tendency to skew both the offensive and defensive statistics for the 49ers. What it does to the defense on a practical level is open to question. It certainly hasn’t helped the D in its last three games.

Elon had the ball for 36:17 against the 49ers. Charleston Southern’s time of possession was 41:52. Gardner-Webb’s was 36:49.

That can wear out a defense. Charleston Southern ran 89 plays in regulation from the line of scrimmage (not counting plays wiped out by penalty).

Elon ran 97 offensive plays against Charlotte. The Phoenix has not run more than 76 plays in any other game this year, but may have decided to go up-tempo to take advantage of the 49ers’ lack of depth.

Charlotte is a big-play team in every respect. It gets ’em, and it gives ’em up. Offense, defense, special teams — 49er games are rollercoaster affairs.

The offense has produced twelve pass plays of 35 yards or more, including three in its last game against Gardner-Webb for 55, 59 (TD), and 80 (TD) yards. The 49ers have had six rushing plays of 40+ yards, including a 77-yard TD run versus Charleston Southern and a 70-yard rush against North Carolina Central.

That tendency to break a long gainer is a major reason why Charlotte has had 11 touchdown drives this season that lasted less than 1:30 in duration. Three of those possessions were one-play scoring drives.

The defense has chipped in with three scoring plays of its own, including a pick-six last week in the Gardner-Webb game.

Conversely, opponents have also had some moments to savor. Charleston Southern had two 45-yard plays, a run and a pass reception (with the run going for a TD).

Gardner-Webb’s scoring plays included a 71-yard reception and a 95-yard kickoff return, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs had two other pass plays of 30+ yards. North Carolina Central’s four 4th-quarter touchdowns included a fumble return by its defense and a 21-yard reception (with a 35-yard completion setting up another Eagles TD).

Charlotte and its opponents have combined to average 4.7 turnovers per game and 16 penalties per contest. Also, while the 49ers have had a solid year kicking field goals (14-18), their opponents are only 5-15.

In other words, Charlotte’s games this season have featured a lot of erratic but entertaining play.

Starting quarterback Matt Johnson has started every game for Charlotte over the past two seasons. He’s a big QB (6’3″, 230 lbs.) who can run or pass. He threw for 335 yards against Charleston Southern, and ran for 150 yards versus North Carolina Central.

Like several of the 49ers’ skill position players, he’s a big-play threat. Johnson can make it happen via the air (eight completed passes of 50+ yards) or the ground (a 70-yard run against North Carolina Central and a 49-yarder versus Gardner-Webb).

In the SoCon media teleconference, Mike Houston described Charlotte running back Kalif Phillips as “dynamic”. He’s a 5’11”, 205 lb. sophomore from Kannapolis.

Phillips is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and almost 100 yards rushing per game. He has ten rushing touchdowns, including a long of 77 yards versus Charleston Southern. Phillips can catch the ball, but has not really been asked to do so this season (only two receptions).

The most difficult individual matchup for The Citadel on Saturday might be 5’9″, 152 lb. receiver Austin Duke, a true blazer from Independence High School in Charlotte.

He caught 62 passes last season for 727 yards and six touchdowns, and is well on his way to exceeding those numbers this year. In fact, Duke is likely to surpass his 2013 reception yardage against The Citadel, as he already has 712 yards receiving through six games (on 44 receptions).

Duke is averaging over 16 yards per reception and has five TDs, including an 80-yarder against Gardner-Webb, a 65-yard score versus North Carolina Central, and touchdowns of 61 and 74 yards against Charleston Southern. His TD catch versus Elon went for a mere 19 yards. He’s very good, and very dangerous.

Fellow wideout Dmarjai Devine is more than capable of picking up the slack if teams pay too much attention to Duke (if it’s possible to pay too much attention to Duke). Devine has caught twelve passes this season, including 55- and 59-yarders just last week against Gardner-Webb.

Will Thomas, who backs up Duke at receiver, was Charlotte’s first official football signee.

The 49ers’ H-back, Justin Bolus, went to James Island High School. He has a relatively modest six catches so far this season, but Bolus bears watching — he burned Campbell for a 62-yard reception. Bolus underwent stomach surgery twice in 2012, but returned to the gridiron and played in all 11 games the following year.

Charlotte has a large offensive line, with both tackles and both guards starting every game this season for the 49ers. Average height and weight of the starters: 6’4″, 304 lbs.

Right guard Daniel Blitch, a redshirt senior, is a transfer from Wake Forest. Blitch and right tackle Danny Book (who started his career at Albany) are both 6’6″; left guard Casey Perry, at 335 lbs., is the heaviest of the starters.

The 49ers operate out of a base 3-4 defense, though how they decide to line up against The Citadel’s triple option attack is another matter. While Charlotte has already played one option team in Charleston Southern, the Bulldogs will present a slightly different look.

“This is truly a triple-option,” said Charlotte coach Brad Lambert…”It’s very similar to what they run at Navy, Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern that we’ve seen before. Over the years we’ve played against this kind of offense quite a bit. So we know what we’re getting into.”

[Mike] Houston knows what he’s doing with the triple-option. He rode it all the way to the NCAA Division II championship game at Lenoir-Rhyne last season. After three years as the Bears’ coach, he left for The Citadel in January.

“Mike’s won a truckload of games over the years,” Lambert said. “Wherever he’s been, he’s been a proven winner.”

…[Aaron] Miller “is operating the offense pretty good,” Lambert said. “He’s making better decisions the further they get into it.”…

…“We’ve got to stay fundamental against them,” Charlotte safety Desmond Cooper said. “They’ll be running, running, running, then hit you with a pass.”

Mike Houston described the 49ers’ defense as “tall, lean, and athletic”, adding that “they run very well”.

The defensive line is rangy, with no player on the two-deep shorter than 6’2″. The heaviest member of the d-line is starting nosetackle Larry Ogunjobi, a 275 lb. redshirt sophomore from Greensboro.

Charlotte has had some injury problems in its linebacking corps. The two starting inside linebackers on the season’s first depth chart are both out. Their replacements are both redshirt freshmen; one of them, Dustin Crouser, has two interceptions for UNCC.

Outside linebacker Nico Alcalde (6’2″, 205 lbs.) has started every game for the 49ers over the last two seasons. Fellow outside ‘backer Tyler DeStefani (6’4″, 220 lbs.) is a redshirt senior pursuing a masters’ degree in mathematical finance.

Safety Branden Dozier has a fumble return and an interception return for a touchdown this season. He’s a transfer from Butler County Community College who wears #3, the same number sported by 49ers running back Kalif Phillips.

Fellow safety Desmond Cooper is also a transfer, having started his career at Wake Forest. Cooper is a redshirt senior.

Cornerback Greg Cunningham Jr. has two interceptions this year, one of six Charlotte players with at least one pick. Cunningham is 6’2″, while the other starting corner, the excellently named Tank Norman, is 5’10”.

Placekicker Blake Brewer is 12-16 converting field goals this season, with a long of 50 yards. He also serves as the 49ers’ kickoff specialist.

Arthur Hart, the starting punter, is a freshman from Grafton, Wisconsin. He attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Washington, DC. Hart has been hard of hearing since birth.

He is averaging 36.6 yards per punt, not a huge number. However, only one of Hart’s 27 punts this season has been returned (for six yards).

Damarrel Alexander is Kalif Phillips’ backup at running back and also the principal kick returner for the 49ers. He has a long return this season of 30 yards. Austin Duke also returns kickoffs for Charlotte (though only one so far this year).

Ardy Holmes, a transfer from Marshall, is the starting punt returner. Holmes took over those duties against Gardner-Webb after regular return man Corey Nesmith suffered a foot injury.

Odds and ends:

– The Citadel is the first SoCon team that Charlotte has played, either this year or last. The 49ers have played six games against Big South opposition (going 2-4) and are 1-1 versus MEAC teams and 0-2 against CAA squads.

– Saturday’s game will, rather curiously, be the last road game of the season for Charlotte. The 49ers will have a bye next week and then play their final four games at home, against James Madison, Coastal Carolina, Wesley College, and Morehead State.

– Charlotte’s tight ends coach, Johnson Richardson, was a tight end at Wofford before beginning his coaching career. He is the grandson of Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, for whom the 49ers’ football stadium is named (Richardson gave the school $10 million to help it build the facility).

– For the third time this season, The Citadel will play a gridiron opponent for the first time, with Charlotte joining Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb in that category.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 12-point favorite over Charlotte (as of Thursday morning). As always, keep in mind that FCS odds are often…odd.

– Charlotte is transitioning to FBS status and thus is in the process of increasing its scholarship allotment for football. According to Adam Smith of the Burlington Times-News, the 49ers currently have about 75 players on scholarship. The ceiling for FBS is 85; the limit for equivalencies in FCS is 63.

– In a recent interview, Jim Senter mentioned that under his administration, facility rentals would be a key element in providing incoming funds to the department of athletics.

It is no surprise, then, that a page devoted to such rentals recently popped up on the school’s sports website.

– This weekend is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel, and as usual there are a lot of things going on all over campus. I don’t know how many people will be in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but there is no doubt in my mind that the tailgating areas will be packed to capacity. They always are.

– Congratulations to the seniors who will get their rings this week. As always, a reminder: rings are nice, but diplomas are even nicer.

– I’m also happy for the freshmen who this week will pass the first of many benchmarks in their cadet careers. I’m sure they thought cadre would never end, but it could have been worse.

They could have been freshmen during a cadre period that lasted until November 2. [Involuntary shudder]

– Spike The Bulldog is now 5-1 in the Capitol One Mascot Challenge, having triumphed over Iowa State’s Cy The Cardinal last week. This week, our hero takes on Big Red, the nightmare-inducing mascot for Western Kentucky.

Vote for Spike!

I have two main concerns about this game:

– Charlotte has a lot of talented players. The 49ers may not be the deepest team, but you only have to play 11 at a time.

Will the Bulldogs be able to contain Austin Duke and Kalif Phillips? How does the defense prevent a dual-threat QB like Matt Johnson from having a big game?

Can the offense move the ball consistently and avoid the turnover bug? The 49ers, if nothing else, are a ball-hawking squad.

– The other consideration is more psychological. Mike Houston said “we’re moving on,” and it’s important that the players do just that.

My greatest fear is that the call at the end of the Wofford game winds up costing The Citadel not one but two wins, because of a hangover effect. The coaches must prevent that from happening.

One thing everyone learned over this past week is that The Citadel’s fan base is a passionate group. It demands effort and quality in all areas.

I’m quite sure Mike Houston already knew that, but I suspect new AD Jim Senter may now have a new appreciation for just how much the fans care about the football program (and the school). They can be a boisterous lot, too.

I’ll be in the stands on Saturday, along with a few of my occasionally rowdy friends. I have high hopes for the atmosphere at Johnson Hagood Stadium this weekend.

I also have high hopes for a victory.

2014 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Wofford

The Citadel vs. Wofford, to be played at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 4. The game will not be televised. It will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Darren Goldwater providing play-by-play and Corey Miller supplying the analysis.

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

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

Note: this game will NOT be streamed on the SoCon Digital Network.

Links of interest:

Game notes from The Citadel and Wofford

SoCon weekly release

Bulldogs “break big”

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Ayers on the SoCon teleconference and at his media luncheon

This is the eighth time in the last nine years the game between The Citadel and Wofford is being televised over the air (SportSouth, SCETV, etc.) or streamed on ESPN3.com. For the third year in the row, the game is on ESPN3.com, and for the third year in the row Darren Goldwater will be handling play-by-play.

Last year, Goldwater worked this game with Paul Maguire. This time, his analyst is former South Carolina linebacker Corey Miller.

Over the past ten seasons (counting this one), The Citadel has only won three times when appearing on television/ESPN3.com, though the Bulldogs did beat Samford last year in an ESPN3 game. The Citadel has to improve its winning percentage in “TV games”, if for no other reason than because the football program is going to appear on television/ESPN3.com more often going forward.

I mentioned in my review of the Gardner-Webb game that even though there were a lot of positives to be taken away from the contest, there is still a lot of room for improvement for The Citadel. I’ll mention just a few things that need to get better, or are cause for concern.

– Placekicking was, by and large, a success story last week. All three field goal attempts were converted, and they were critical to the eventual victory.

The Citadel’s Eric Goins is 5-5 on field goal attempts for the season, which is outstanding. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs are only 4-7 converting PATs (and missed one against Gardner-Webb).

One of the oldest clichés in gridiron lore is that missing a short kick or PAT will “come back to haunt ’em”. There is a lot of truth to that, though.

Admittedly, I’ll take those three-point FGs over single-point PATs every time. It’s just that in football, teams have to be greedy. They need all the points.

The Citadel has been a little lucky with a couple of deflections, too, although maybe not as lucky as Wofford was in this matchup two years ago (Domonic Jones is probably still wondering how that ball traveled so far).

– It finally happened last week. The Citadel forced a turnover, the first of the season for the defense (a fumble recovery by Joe Crochet after a Carson Smith sack).

However, the Bulldogs still lost the turnover battle to Gardner-Webb 2-1 (yes, the weird de facto onside kick in the first half counts as a lost fumble). The defense has to make those game-changing plays.

I know that’s a tough thing to say just after The Citadel’s D sets a school record for sacks, but turnovers matter. The Bulldogs need to force a lot more of them.

The Citadel only had one pass breakup (and no interceptions) on 35 Gardner-Webb passing attempts. Even given the Bulldogs’ style of secondary coverage (a “don’t give up the big play” strategy), that’s too low a number.

– Despite rushing for 323 yards against Gardner-Webb, The Citadel had a lot of rushing attempts that went for short yardage, and that can be a problem when trying to stay “on schedule”.

The Bulldogs rushed 58 times. On 34 of those occasions, The Citadel gained three or fewer yards. That’s 58.6% of the time, and strikes me as being a little problematic.

Of course, a couple of those short-yardage plays went for touchdowns. Jake Stenson can’t gain more than three yards on a three-yard TD run. That isn’t the issue.

However, 16 of the 26 first-down running plays The Citadel had against Gardner-Webb resulted in gains of three yards or less. That put more pressure on subsequent second (and third) downs.

It didn’t hurt The Citadel much last Saturday, largely because of the success the Bulldogs had on first-down passing plays. Against other defenses, though, The Citadel has to be a little better when it runs the ball on first down.

Last year against Wofford, the Bulldogs rushed the ball 15 times on first down. The Citadel gained three yards or less on ten of those plays, a big reason the Bulldogs were 3-15 on third-down conversion attempts.

For the entire game, The Citadel gained three or fewer yards on 23 of 38 rushing attempts (60.5%; that statistic does not include sacks). The Bulldogs threw the ball 22 times, often in obvious passing situations. In related news, The Citadel did not score an offensive touchdown.

Oddly, while I’ve just written a few paragraphs discussing how The Citadel needs to improve its rushing attack, I suspect the passing game may be the key element again this week…

Wofford is 2-2 entering SoCon play, but trying to figure out if it’s a good 2-2 or a bad 2-2 or even a mediocre 2-2 is not easy. It’s possible that even Wofford fans aren’t entirely sure what to make of their squad this year.

On the SoCon media teleconference, Mike Ayers said that his team could play like “superstar[s]” or like the participants for “some of those Pop Warner teams that play at halftime”.

The Terriers opened the season with a 38-19 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, but only trailed 24-19 in that game with ten minutes to play. Now, the Yellow Jackets are erratic (and also currently undefeated), but the Terriers should get some credit for holding Georgia Tech to 226 yards rushing.

Wofford outrushed the Jackets and also had the edge in time of possession. Georgia Tech averaged 17.6 yards per pass attempt, however.

All in all, it was a very decent effort by Wofford against an FBS squad.

After taking a week off, Wofford hosted D-2 North Greenville, winning 42-27. This was a rather weird contest that featured two lightning delays. To cap things off, with less than two minutes to play the lights went out in Gibbs Stadium (while a punt was in midair), and everybody decided to just go home. If you include delays, by that point the game had lasted for five hours.

The Terriers piled up the rushing yards (377 on 53 attempts), but were actually outgained on the (very long) night by the Crusaders, thanks to 370 North Greenville passing yards.

Wofford then lost 43-36 at Gardner-Webb. The Terriers were leading 28-14 late in the second quarter, but gave up a TD with seven seconds remaining in the half, and were outscored 23-8 after the break.

Gardner-Webb allowed the Terriers to rush for 322 yards, exactly one yard less than The Citadel managed against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. However, Wofford only ran the ball 47 times against G-W, while The Citadel rushed 58 times.

While Gardner-Webb picked up a relatively modest 232 yards passing against Wofford, G-W was only sacked twice. That was a far cry from the ten sacks it would give up in Charleston a week later.

The passing yardage total also doesn’t account for multiple defensive pass interference calls against Wofford during the game (the Terriers finished with 91 yards in penalties). Gardner-Webb had three passing touchdowns in the game, including the winning score with 2:04 to play.

Last week, Wofford defeated UVA-Wise (a provisional Division II school) 49-15 in Spartanburg. The Terriers dominated early, let the Highland Cavaliers drift back into the game (it was 28-15 midway through the third quarter), then closed out the contest on a 21-0 run.

After the first possession of the second half, Wofford adjusted its pass defense. The Terriers eschewed their traditional man-to-man coverage for more zone, a move necessitated by UVA-Wise’s success throwing the ball.

It worked, as Wofford held UVA-Wise to 35 yards passing on its final four possessions after making the switch, with two interceptions.

Mike Ayers:

We’re not really good at playing man-to-man right now, not with the way things are being called. We just can’t do it. If we defend six times, we’ll probably get four pass-interference calls. You can’t do it that way. It keeps moving the sticks and affords them the opportunity to keep doing it.

You look at the game and it was a carbon copy of Gardner-Webb (43-36 loss in the previous game). It’s going to be that way against anyone that has the ability to throw the football and has a big guy that we don’t match up with very well. We’re not going to play a whole lot of man-to-man from now on. I promise you that.

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that The Citadel’s passing attack could be a key factor in this game. I think I’ve illustrated in the last few paragraphs why that is the case.

The Bulldogs simply have to take advantage of what appears to be a weakness in the Terriers’ defense. That is particularly true because other than pass defense, I think Wofford may actually be in good shape for its SoCon campaign.

Wofford’s offense is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Evan Jacks, the latest in a long line of solid signal-callers for the Terriers. He will provide a major challenge for The Citadel’s defense.

Jacks has rushed 45 times for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He is averaging 8.6 yards per pass attempt and is completing just under 60% of his throws, with three TD passes and three interceptions.

Against North Greenville, Jacks threw an 85-yard touchdown pass. He had a 45-yard TD run versus Gardner-Webb.

Jacks is a third-generation college football player, as his father played for Connecticut and his grandfather was a QB at Penn.

The Terriers appear to have found their latest star fullback in the person of sophomore Lorenzo Long, who was lightly recruited out of Pensacola, Florida. It may be that prep running backs in Pensacola are given short shrift because they can’t measure up to the most celebrated high school running back to ever come out of Pensacola — Emmitt Smith.

Long has 318 yards on 51 carries, with six touchdowns. He had 151 yards rushing against Gardner-Webb, and 138 yards versus North Greenville. Long has three runs of 40+ yards this season, and has also returned kickoffs.

Wofford halfback Ray Smith had a 92-yard touchdown run against Georgia Tech, which was (rather amazingly, at least to me) the longest run against the Yellow Jackets in that program’s entire history. Smith’s future children and grandchildren will hear about that gallop many times.

The other starting halfback for the Terriers, Will Gay, rushed for 81 yards in last year’s game against the Bulldogs (on only nine carries) and also caught a TD pass. Gay is Wofford’s primary punt returner as well.

The strength of the Terriers’ offensive line is probably on the right side. Redshirt junior T.J. Chamberlin, a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection, is the right guard. Sophomore Anton Wahrby (a second-team preseason pick) is the right tackle.

Wahrby is a native of Sweden who was a foreign exchange student at Lexington High School. He presumably was one of the larger exchange students in Palmetto State history, as the 6’4″ Wahrby currently tips the scales at 290 lbs.

Will Irwin was on the receiving end of that 85-yard pass from Jacks against North Greenville, He also had a nine-yard TD run in that game on an end-around. Last season, Irwin had a 30-yard touchdown catch against The Citadel.

Wade Francis backs up Irwin at wide receiver. Francis had six receptions (including a TD) against Gardner-Webb.

The defense for the Terriers suffered a blow when starting linebacker Travis Thomas (a fifth-year senior) tore his Achilles’ tendon in the game against Gardner-Webb. He has been replaced by redshirt freshman Daryl Vining.

On the SoCon teleconference, Mike Houston said Wofford defensive end Tarek Odom was probably the best defensive lineman The Citadel will have faced (outside of Florida State’s DL group) this season. He was “all over the field” against Georgia Tech, and is explosive “with a great motor”.

Odom was a first-team All-SoCon choice after last season, and was a preseason all-league pick this year. He is joined on the line by nosetackle E.J. Speller, a tough 290 lb. junior who also drew praise from Houston.

Inside linebacker Kevin Thomas leads the Terriers in tackles through four games. He was second on the team in tackles last season, a year in which he also had 8.5 tackles for loss.

Both of Wofford’s starting cornerbacks were preseason second-team All-SoCon selections. Bernard Williams started all eleven games for the Terriers last season, forcing three fumbles and leading Wofford defenders in passes broken up.

Chris Armfield also started all eleven contests in 2013, and led the league in interceptions with three. Armfield intercepted a pass against UVA-Wise and returned it 60 yards, setting up a touchdown.

Backup cornerback Brion Anderson has two interceptions this season.

Free safety Jaleel Green has started all four games this season for Wofford, and has an interception return for a TD to his credit (versus UVA-Wise). The strong safety position has been a bit of a revolving door, with three different Terriers having started in that role.

Redshirt freshman David Marvin had a very impressive debut against Georgia Tech, converting both of his field goal attempts (one a 51-yarder) and punting four times for an average of 43.5 yards per kick. He also handled kickoff duties for the Terriers.

Unfortunately, Marvin suffered a sprained knee during the game, which led to Wofford having to scramble for a replacement (or three).

In his stead, reserve defensive back Michael Sarafianos handled extra points, while Brian Sanders punted (and continued to hold on placekicks). Also appearing for the Terriers: backup soccer goalkeeper Ben Bruggeworth, who performed the kickoff duties. When he kicked off for Wofford against North Greenville, it was the first time Bruggeworth had appeared in a high school or college football game.

Marvin is back as the team’s placekicker (resuming those duties last week), with Sanders remaining the first-team punter and Bruggeworth the kickoff specialist. Michael Comer is the Terriers’ veteran long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– Wofford doesn’t have a band, so it usually brings in a “guest band”. This week, for the first time, Gibbs Stadium will be graced by the presence of the band from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, a/k/a the “Orange Pride“.

The Orange Pride Marching Band is greatly renowned, and always resplendent in the O-W school colors of maroon and orange. It will easily be the smartest group of high school students to ever provide musical entertainment at Wofford.

– At halftime, Wofford will recognize its 2014 Hall of Fame honorees.

– It will be “Family Weekend” at Wofford.

– Scheduling info: Wofford will play games at Clemson and at Idaho in 2015. I have no idea what Wofford is getting out of the Idaho game, to be honest.

In 2016, the Terriers have a game at Mississippi.

– Per at least one site that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a two-point favorite on Saturday, which just goes to show how much attention is paid to FCS games by oddsmakers (and bettors in general). That is to say, almost none.

The over/under is 51.5, incidentally.

– Spike The Bulldog is 4-1 in the Capital One Challenge. This week, he is battling Cy The Cardinal, the mascot for Iowa State.

Vote for Spike!

This is a game that a lot of us upperclassmen and guys who were here last year have been waiting for. I think there is a little bit of a revenge factor.

I’m going to return to this quote. First, let’s talk about the importance of the game against Wofford on Saturday.

It’s important because The Citadel needs to win more games, establish momentum, and successfully compete in the Southern Conference. It’s not important because of what happened in 1916 or 1959 or 1987 or 1998 (and I say that as someone with a great respect for history).

Aaron Miller and Rah Muhammad shouldn’t care about any kind of losing streak. Whatever happened when John Zernhelt or Ellis Johnson or Don Powers were at The Citadel doesn’t matter. This year matters.

I know that a lot of our alums want to see us beat Wofford. Heck, I do too. I want us to beat Wofford every year. I want us to win all of our games every year.

By paying too much attention to the recent past, though, there is a risk of playing against history rather than facing the here-and-now. If prior events are overly emphasized, a team can be psyched out rather than psyched up.

Wofford is a solid, well-coached squad. It isn’t perfect, as the defensive problems I’ve outlined above suggest, but it’s fully capable of beating any team in the league. I don’t want the Bulldogs to play last year’s Wofford team, or 2004’s Wofford team, or any of the teams in between.

I want the Bulldogs to play the 2014 edition of the Terriers. I also want the Bulldogs to win.

It’s important not to get too wound up about things like a streak or some kind of “revenge factor”.

Oh, that quote above? That’s not from any of The Citadel’s players. It’s a comment made by Wofford linebacker Drake Michaelson before the Terriers’ game against Gardner-Webb.

Michaelson was talking about Wofford playing Gardner-Webb this year after losing the game to G-W last season. The Terriers may have been waiting for another shot at the Runnin’ Bulldogs, but in the end Gardner-Webb won again.

Ultimately, players should be highly motivated to play each and every game. It’s not that long a season, after all.

I plan on being in Spartanburg on Saturday, and I hope a lot of fellow blue-clad fans also make the trip. From a scheduling perspective, one thing the SoCon has done which I appreciate is stagger The Citadel’s annual games against Furman and Wofford, so that there is one game in the Upstate each season, instead of two in one season and no games in the next.

This year, that game is at Wofford. It should be a very nice day. It would be a really nice day if the Bulldogs could pull off a victory.