Review: Wofford

During the game, SportSouth played a clip of The Citadel Regimental Band playing at the 2010 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

It was easily the highlight of the telecast for The Citadel.

Sam Wyche struggled trying to come up with a positive for the Bulldogs.  At one point, he noted that The Citadel had cut its turnovers in half from the week before.  When the best thing that can be said about your offense is that it didn’t commit nine turnovers in consecutive weeks, your offense has issues.

(Wyche also struggled with calling Kevin Higgins by his right name, at least twice referring to “Mike Higgins” before sheepishly correcting himself.  I think Wyche is a solid announcer, so I wouldn’t hold it against him.  Calling a game like that one can be difficult.)

The Citadel has been shut out in consecutive games for the first time in a decade.  In case you were wondering, the last time the Bulldogs were shut out three times in a row was 1953, when The Citadel actually suffered four straight shutout losses.  I would say that if the Bulldogs can’t put a crooked number on the board against Elon on Homecoming, it’s going to get ugly, but the fact is that it’s already ugly.

Not only have the Bulldogs been shut out twice in succession, in neither game did The Citadel snap the ball in the opponent’s “red zone”.  The closest the Bulldogs have come to the opposing end zone in the last two games?  In the Georgia Southern game, The Citadel reached the GSU 23-yard line before fumbling.  Against Wofford, the deepest penetration was the Terrier 38-yard line, which is where The Citadel was when the game ended.

I didn’t understand why the Bulldogs did not make an effort to run more plays at the game’s end, to be honest.  Why not at least try to score?  What did they have to lose?  I was disappointed in that.

I was disappointed in a lot of things…

From Jeff Hartsell’s notes column on the game:

The Bulldogs also put freshman Ben Dupree in at quarterback for the first time since the season opener against Chowan. Dupree, who had been playing at slotback, ran nine times for a net of three yards.

“Just trying to get something to jump-start the offense,” Higgins said. “In practice, when Ben’s in there, he usually breaks one or two for 50-plus yards. He did some things, but also put the ball on the ground, too.”

I’ve got to ask…if he has been breaking “one or two for 50-plus yards” in practice, why wasn’t he put in the game at quarterback in other games?  Is there any particular reason a potential big-play threat wouldn’t have been useful against Georgia Southern, or Chattanooga, or Western Carolina?

The quarterback rotation in the game against Wofford was curious.  Matt Thompson started, was replaced by Dupree, who was replaced by Thompson, who gave way to Sam Martin.

This might not be exactly right, so I apologize if I’m off by a play or two, but I think the rotation went like this:  Thompson for two series (six plays), followed by Dupree for three series (fifteen plays), followed by Thompson for seven series (twenty-five plays), followed by Martin for two series (sixteen plays).

The Citadel managed only 143 yards of total offense.  About half of that came during the last two series of the contest; Martin was in the game for both.  That’s not to say he was necessarily playing better than the other two quarterbacks (after all, Wofford wasn’t playing many of its starters by that time), but the team did move the ball a little bit when he was in the game.

The defense turned in a respectable performance.  It did allow two long scoring drives, but otherwise held up its end of the bargain.  It has to be tough to constantly defend on your side of the field.  Wofford’s average starting position on its offensive possessions was its own 44-yard line (although that’s better than last week, when GSU’s average drive started on The Citadel’s 40-yard line).

Eric Clanton and Tolu Akindele were noticeably active (Akindele forced two fumbles). Rod Harland led the team with ten tackles.

Everyone knew this wasn’t going to be the easiest of seasons, not with the transition to the triple option offense.  I think what is most frustrating, though, is that Bulldog fans really haven’t seen that much of the triple option in action.

Instead, they’ve seen constant problems with the exchanges between the quarterback and the center, and the quarterback and the fullback.  It’s as if the play never develops, and the result is the quarterback being tackled for a three-yard loss, or a fumble, or both.

In addition, when The Citadel attempts a pass it is more often than not a “cover your eyes” situation.

On to Elon.  It’s Homecoming.  My advice to alums returning for their reunions: concentrate on the tailgating.

Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Wofford

Date and time:  Saturday, October 30, at 1:30 pm ET

Television:  SportSouth and FCS-Central; Tom Werme and Sam Wyche on the call from Spartanburg

This, somewhat amazingly, is going to be the fifth year in a row the game between Wofford and The Citadel has been televised.  I believe it’s the third consecutive time Werme and Wyche have called the game; in 2006 the game was televised by South Carolina ETV, while the last three (and Saturday’s game) have all been carried by SportSouth.

Tangent:  The Citadel doesn’t appear on television that often, which is understandable, but this week there are two Big XII matchups that won’t be televised, which is less understandable.  One reason for this is the Big XII has a poor TV contract, and the other is that one of the matchups is a Texas A&M home game.

Aggies AD Bill Byrne is well-known for his aversion to pay-per-view telecasts, or regional broadcasts where the school doesn’t receive a payout.  He apparently believes televising home games hurts attendance.  He is almost certainly wrong about that, at least in the long term.  I actually wrote a little bit about this subject in last year’s Wofford preview.

A school with a tradition as grand as that of Texas A&M should have no trouble with home attendance in the first place.  At any rate, television is a great promotional tool for a school’s football program and the university in general, and it’s very surprising that in 2010, there is still someone in a position of authority who doesn’t believe that.

Byrne may be the final holdout, after the 2007 death of longtime Chicago Blackhawks owner “Dollar Bill” Wirtz.  As a result, Texas A&M was the last FBS team to appear on TV this season, when it finally had a game against Oklahoma State televised.

When I initially started writing this post, my idea was to use the bulk of it to discuss Kevin Higgins’ status as head coach of The Citadel.  However, I changed my mind about one-third of the way through it, for a couple of reasons.

One is that I felt I had not had time to thoroughly research a couple of points I wanted to make.  I didn’t want to write some hurried screed lacking proper foundation, particularly on this issue.  Also, I’m not sure writing about a coach’s tenure immediately after his team commits nine turnovers lends itself to treating things with proper perspective.

It’s just a blog, but I do have some standards…

What I’m going to do, I think, is wait until The Citadel’s bye week, and then in lieu of a normal preview (since there won’t be a game to write about) I’ll post my thoughts on the coaching situation.

Because of the last-minute change in approach, this preview is going to be shorter than normal.  That is probably just as well, because to be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure what to say about Saturday’s game against the Terriers, other than the Bulldogs can’t possibly play worse on offense than they did against Georgia Southern.  At least, I hope not.

Wofford was 3-8 last season, as it struggled with a lot of injuries and what was considered a bad case of fumbleitis, although not as bad as the Bulldogs’ fumbling problems this year.   The Citadel has fumbled 33 times, losing 19.  Through eight games last season, Wofford had fumbled 19 times, losing 13.

Wofford lost one fumble in its ninth game, against The Citadel, but unfortunately that didn’t keep the Terriers from scoring 43 points.

Last season one of Wofford’s key injuries was to fullback Eric Breitenstein.  He’s back this season, and leading the nation in scoring, averaging just over two touchdowns per game (he scored four times against Furman while rushing for 234 yards).  Breitenstein has scored at least two touchdowns in his last six games.

Mitch Allen struggled last year for the Terriers, but the quarterback has been much improved this season.  Allen had a season-high 178 yards rushing against Western Carolina (one of three Terriers to rush for over 100 yards in that game).  He also has a 3.9 GPA in Physics, which a professor at another Southern Conference school once told me would be the equivalent of a 2.9 GPA at The Citadel.  (Hey, I’m just reporting the facts here.)

While perusing the statistics, I was surprised to see that Wofford’s opponents actually have had a slight edge in time of possession.  Wofford is converting 43% of its third down attempts, which is a little lower than what the Terriers would like but better than last season.   Wofford as usual has not shied away from going for it on 4th down, and the Terriers are 8 for 11 in that category.

Mike Niam is a 6’3″, 245 lb. linebacker for Wofford.  He played in two games last season for the Terriers, leading the team in tackles both times, before tearing his ACL.  He returned for spring practice, then had to have surgery on his knee in the fall, when it was discovered he had torn his ACL again.  He missed the first five games of the season, but returned two weeks ago — and has led the team in tackles in both games since returning.

Wofford’s best defensive player, though, is DE Ameet Pall, a Canadian who leads the nation in sacks per game (1.5).  He has 10.5 sacks total on the season (3 of those against Furman — boy, that was a tough game for the Paladins, wasn’t it?).  Peet has 15 tackles for loss overall.  At least one observer rates him ahead of GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell, which is really saying something.

Wofford placekicker Christian Reed is 8-10 on FG attempts but has missed four PATs this season (including a stretch of three misses in a row).  The Terriers have only punted 25 times in seven games; just five of those have been returned (although for a 13-yard average that probably concerns Terrier coaches).

Wofford games don’t feature a lot of penalties.  The Terriers are being flagged about five times per game.  Wofford opponents are only averaging three penalties per contest, which I find a bit curious.

One injury of note for Wofford:  center Trey Johnson broke his arm in last week’s game against Elon.  He will be replaced by redshirt freshman Jared Singleton, who played most of that contest after Johnson got hurt.

Last season’s game against Wofford was one of the more disappointing games I’ve seen at Johnson Hagood Stadium.  (Unfortunately, this year I’ve seen two games at JHS that were even more disappointing.)  The Bulldogs played poorly in all aspects of the game, and the score reflected that.

Kevin Higgins thinks that the matchup with Wofford on Saturday will be “a great football game“.  I’m glad he thinks it will be, since he’s the head coach.  Of course, last season he thought the Bulldogs were “going to war“.  That wasn’t quite the case.

I just watch the games from a safe distance, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think it’s going to be a great game.  Wofford has confidence, experience, and is at home.  The Citadel (at least offensively) lacks confidence, experience, and is on the road.  The Bulldogs have lost 11 straight SoCon games away from home, and most of them weren’t close losses.

I would like to be wrong on Saturday.  Very wrong.

Final note:  Jean Marshall, who for many years was the ticket manager for The Citadel’s department of athletics, died last week at the age of 80.  I was just one of many people who had the chance to interact with Ms. Marshall over the years.  As was stated in The Blue and White (probably by Andy Solomon), “She was a favorite of many and will be missed.”  Condolences to her family.

Variety pack: Triple Option, The Citadel on TV, college baseball on the clock, Plant of the Week

This is going to be a grab-bag type of post, a variety pack if you will.  I may do this sort of thing periodically, as I really need to blog on a more regular basis.  I look at this as a way to make shorter comments on various issues, mostly about sports (including sports at The Citadel), with a few other odds and ends that catch my eye.  Think of them as Twitter entries that are longer than 140 characters.

Speaking of Twitter, my latest tweets can be seen on the left side of this page.  If anyone hasn’t noticed and is halfway interested in following me on Twitter, the location is http://twitter.com/SandlapperSpike (my tweets feature links/comments on a lot of stuff, including up-to-the-minute updates on Bulldog sports, baseball, football, and soccer, among other things).

As The Citadel counts down to kickoff against Chowan (as of today, T-41 days!), it’s time to focus on the Bulldogs’ new offense, which may be a little like an old offense, namely Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack.  However, it appears that Kevin Higgins may intend to run more of a “spread” triple option than Taaffe’s offense.

With that in mind, it might be a good idea to take a look at what the folks at Navy (and Georgia Tech, with Paul Johnson’s arrival in Atlanta) have been doing, particularly since Higgins apparently told one of our quarterback recruits (Ben Dupree) that The Citadel would be running a “Navy-style triple-option offense.”

Another reason to pay attention to the triple option is that Georgia Southern is also going to start running the offense this season, in a return to its roots.

For those interested in a breakdown of the nuts and bolts of the triple option, then, I cannot recommend highly enough a visit to The Birddog, the blog of choice for Navy football (and lacrosse).  The Birddog does a great, great job of illustrating (with video!) the intricacies of the triple option attack.

I’ve picked out four posts that I think serve as a good introductory primer for what the offense is all about.  (I hope I’ve chosen correctly.)  While reading these, just in case anyone gets confused, keep in mind that Paul Johnson is the former head coach at Navy (and Georgia Southern, of course) and is now at Georgia Tech.  The current Navy head coach is Ken Niumatalolo, and his offensive coordinator is Ivin Jasper.

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

Other People’s Rivalries And The Futility Of Defending Against the Wishbone

As of today, only one of The Citadel’s football games is scheduled to be televised (at Wofford on October 30).  There is always a chance that a local station (either in Charleston or another SoCon town) will elect to broadcast a game, although that is unlikely.  Other than that scenario, there are only two other games that could be televised.

It is possible (but doubtful) that SportSouth will pick up the November 20 game at Samford as part of its “SoCon Saturday” package, as the last two weekends of the regular season are “wild card” weekends — basically, the network will televise the most attractive matchup that week, based on the teams’ records to that point in the season.  Admittedly, very few prognosticators are going to bet that a game between Samford and The Citadel will have serious repercussions in the league standings, but you never know.

However, there is a decent chance that The Citadel’s game at Arizona on September 11 will be televised by Fox Sports Net Arizona (FSN-AZ), a regional sports network received by cable subscribers in Arizona (and I believe parts of California and New Mexico), and also available as part of DirecTV’s “Sports Pack”.  Arizona has asked the Pac-10 (and the league’s TV partners) for a waiver in order for the game to be broadcast.

The reason a waiver is needed is because there are already two Pac-10 games scheduled to be televised during the same time period, and that league’s national cable partners have television exclusivity rights for those games.  In other words, a local/regional broadcast can’t take place at the same time as a nationally televised league TV game.  If another Pac-10 school wants its game on television, it has to play in another time slot.

However, Arizona and Arizona State have been given waivers in the past because home game time slots for those schools are limited, especially early in the season. You just can’t play a football game in the desert in the midday heat.

(Matt Sarzyniak was nice enough to explain the Arizona/Arizona State waiver issue to me, which I appreciate.)

We’ll see what happens.  I am cautiously optimistic that the game will be televised.

The NCAA Baseball Rules Committee passed legislation that, if approved, will establish a time clock in college baseball.  The committee is basically incorporating the rules employed by the SEC for its 2010 conference tournament.

The 20-second rule for throwing a pitch was already on the books, but now it will be enforced with a timer, as will the amount of time allocated between innings.  I’ll be interested to see how the Southern Conference handles this; will it have a visible clock, with a timekeeper in the press box monitoring it?  Or will it just have an umpire carrying a watch?  I’m guessing the latter, for financial reasons.

The committee also modified the obstruction rule, which got a lot of notoriety in the Southern Conference tournament thanks to the second-round game/brawl between The Citadel and Elon.  That was the second-wildest fight I’ve ever seen at the SoCon tourney (nothing compares to the epic Raleigh/Piepenbrink donnybrook in 1990, though).

Not about sports:  you can be assured that I will never quote from or link to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Why, you ask?  This is why.

Link 1

Link 2

I sincerely hope that the Review-Journal goes bankrupt sooner rather than later.  Also, the photo of the CEO in the first link — doesn’t he look like a guy who hopes you throw something at him, so that he can sue you?

I have a great deal of respect for copyright law.  I think this guy and the Review-Journal (which is funding him) are abusing copyright law.

Not about sports:  I really enjoyed this article in The New Yorker on the identification and authentication of artworks.  It’s a long piece, but worthwhile.  I won’t spoil it, but there is a major twist halfway through.  The bottom line:  if P.T. Barnum had been more familiar with the art world, he would have said “there’s a sucker born every 15 seconds.”

Finally, a new feature, the Plant of the Week.  That’s right, plants.  As I’ve said elsewhere on the blog, I consider gardening a sport.  In honor of this being the first edition of the PotW, I will honor not one but two plants in my garden.  Both are crinums. Feast your eyes on a Powelii (Cecil Houdyshel) and a Herbertii (no common name).

Until next time…

Make it five in a row; The Citadel’s basketball team rolls along

This is going to be one of my shorter posts.  Apologies to anyone who actually follows the blog on a semi-regular basis, but it’s hard to write when under the effects of anesthesia.  I was barely able to follow Thursday night’s game against Western Carolina, in which the Bulldogs played as good a half (the second) as they have all season.  I wish I had been at full speed for that one, but I’ll take a 17-point win while groggy any day.

Anyway, Ed Conroy and company have won 5 straight games.  Ed has figured out this February basketball thing, as the Bulldogs are 11-1 in the shortest month over the last two seasons.  Last year, they lost their final game in February after winning six straight in the month (the final six games of last season’s 11-game winning streak).  This year, the Bulldogs are 5-0 in the month with three games to go — UNC-Greensboro on Saturday in the home finale at McAlister Field House, followed by road games against Furman and Wofford.

Quick hits on the Western Carolina game:

  • It’s great to see Cosmo Morabbi getting his shot back.  He made three-pointers from all over the court, setting a career high for makes (5).  Zach Urbanus has been consistent most of the year, but if Morabbi and Austin Dahn (who had a tough night, but made a three near the game’s end) are also shooting well from outside, the Bulldogs can present some serious problems for opposing defenses along the perimeter.
  • Morabbi wasn’t just shooting from outside; he had three steals in the game as well.
  • The stat line doesn’t really show it, but Bryan Streeter had a very solid game last night, particularly defensively.  He outplayed WCU’s post players all night, in my opinion.  Some of his rebounds came in heavy traffic.  He just needs to watch those elbows, especially on SoCon Saturdays when the officiating is, uh, interesting.
  • Harrison DuPont had another good game after a slow start.  I kind of like combining his numbers with those of Bo Holston.  If you do that, you get this line:  40 minutes, 17 points (5-11 FG, 6-8 FT; DuPont also made a 3), 14 rebounds (6 offensive), 2 assists, 3 turnovers.  [Also 6 fouls, so pretend the combo player is in the NBA.]  That’s very good production over the course of a game, obviously.  DuPont should be a serious candidate for the All-SoCon freshman team.
  • It wasn’t Cameron Wells’ best night, as it took him 14 FG attempts to score 13 points.  He also had four turnovers (he did have 5 assists, though).  Despite that, The Citadel won by 17.  That’s a very good sign going forward, especially after being down 11 points at one point in the first half.  Wells isn’t going to be “off” too often.
  • The Bulldogs trailed 25-14 with 5:34 remaining in the half.  For the rest of the game, The Citadel outscored WCU 59-31.  Remember, WCU has a win this season over Louisville at Freedom Hall.  It’s a team that has some talent.
  • The Bulldogs were 7-10 from beyond the arc in the second half.  You can win a lot of games shooting 70% from three-land in the second half.
  • Western Carolina’s leading scorer this season, Brandon Giles, was 0-6 from the field, committed four turnovers, and did not score against The Citadel.

Last season, UNC-Greensboro won only five games all season, four in Southern Conference play.  So far this season, UNCG has won five games, four in Southern Conference play.  The Spartans actually started their conference campaign with a 33-point win at Samford, but that was definitely an outlier.  UNCG is now 4-11 in the league and has lost five straight SoCon outings, although they’ve only been blown out in one of those five, so it’s not like the Spartans haven’t been competitive lately. They just haven’t been winning.

UNC has a fine player in 6’5″ senior Ben Stywall, who averages 14.4 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per contest.  That’s right, he averages a double-double.  Stywall scored 22 points and grabbed 11 boards in UNCG’s most recent game, a 70-65 loss to Elon.  He has had some monster games this year, most of them in losses, including 26/19 against Samford, 21/14 against the College of Charleston, and 24/14 against Western Carolina.  In that CofC game, 11 of Stywall’s rebounds came on the offensive end.

One reason Stywall gets a lot of offensive boards is because he gets a lot of chances. UNCG is the poorest shooting team in the conference in league play, shooting just 38.9% from the field.  Stywall is the only Spartan getting significant minutes who is shooting better than 41%.  Kyle Randall is a 6’2″ freshman who has taken only one fewer shot than Stywall, but he’s only shooting 33%.  The Spartans have two three-point gunners (Mikko Koivisto and Kendall Toney); neither is shooting better than 37% from the field (or better than 34% from beyond the arc).

The Citadel should win this game.  Not because it’s the last home game of the season (which the Bulldogs actually lost last year), but because it’s a much better team that is playing its best basketball of the season.  The Bulldogs need to maintain their excellent perimeter defense and control Stywall on the glass (they aren’t going to completely stop him). UNCG likes to play at a higher tempo (averaging over 70 possessions per game in league play), so as usual The Citadel must control the pace.

The game is on SportSouth, the second Saturday in a row the Bulldogs will be featured on television.  The start time is 1 pm ET; if you can’t be at the game (like me, unfortunately), you should be watching on TV.  This team has now set the all-time school record for most victories over a two-year span with 35 (breaking a record set in 1979-80).  I’m hoping they add at least seven more games to that mark…

Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Wofford

I wrote about the series between Wofford and The Citadel during the preview for last season’s matchup between the two schools.  I’m not going to re-hash the history in this post; if anyone is interested, the link will serve to give some background.

This will be the third consecutive meeting between the Terriers and Bulldogs to be featured on SportSouth, which may be the first time The Citadel has played on TV against the same opponent three years in a row.  Tom Werme and Sam Wyche will again call the action from the booth.

When sporting events began to be regularly broadcast (first over radio, then television), some of the individuals running sports clubs feared that broadcasting games would lead to attendance declines, because people could just stay at home and listen to the radio, or watch on TV.  This notion was largely debunked by Hall of Fame baseball executive Larry MacPhail (in the 1930s and early 1940s).

Tangent:  this type of thinking had gone on for decades, beginning with clubs trying to deny telegraph operators the right to give scoring updates for baseball games.  In 1876, the first year of the National League’s existence, Hartford owner Morgan Bulkeley (one of the three most undeserving members of the Hall of Fame) attempted to bar representatives of the local telegraph company from buying tickets.

However, the question has to be asked:  if a game is on TV, why would someone choose to see it in person, rather than watch it on the tube?  Going to a game can be very inconvenient and expensive.  Instead, you could choose to not leave your house and watch the game (preferably in HD) while lying on your couch, with all the comforts of home, including a refrigerator, bathroom, and an HVAC system.

A lot of people go to the games anyway, as evidenced by the large crowds that see many different kinds of sporting events.  Even when it is noted that there are empty seats at an arena or stadium (like Doak Campbell Stadium for the North Carolina State-Florida State game last Saturday, the bottom line is that there were still a lot of people who went to the game (in that case, over 50,000).

Why do they go?  Well, tradition, I suppose, along with camaraderie — tailgating, seeing old friends in the same seats every year, that type of thing.  They go for the atmosphere.  Sometimes, that atmosphere isn’t so great.  However, occasionally there is a day to remember, a day when the electricity in the stadium isn’t just being provided by the power company.

It’s the kind of thing that gets people off their couches and in their cars and headed to the game, just for the chance to be a part of a high-voltage event, to be swept along in a moment of nirvana.  Maybe it won’t happen too often, but when it does, it makes up for all the times it didn’t.

Such an occurrence happened at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 1988.  Since this Saturday is Homecoming, I’m going to write briefly about the most memorable Homecoming game in the history of the stadium, which had the most electric atmosphere of any game I’ve ever seen at JHS.

***November 5, 1988 — Marshall (#1) vs. The Citadel (#19)***

It was a bright, sunny day when the Thundering Herd and the Bulldogs met on the gridiron.  Marshall had played in the I-AA title game the year before, losing 43-42 to Northeast Louisiana.  After that setback, the Thundering Herd hit the ground running in 1988.  By the time Marshall ventured to Charleston, it was 8-0 and ranked #1 in I-AA football.

The Thundering Herd featured a high-octane offense averaging 32.6 points per game.  Starting quarterback John Gregory threw for 3,127 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1988.  Many of Gregory’s throws went to Mike Barber, Marshall’s All-American wide receiver, who would be named I-AA player of the year in 1988 by the American Football Coaches Association.  Barber had caught 106 passes in 1987 and followed that up with “only” 79 catches in 1988.

When Gregory wasn’t throwing passes to Barber, he was tossing them to Sean Doctor, the Herd tight end, who in just two years in Huntington would accumulate 2,100 receiving yards.  Marshall could run the ball, too, as halfback Ron Darby gained 1,282 yards in 1988 and scored 16 touchdowns.

That was the juggernaut facing The Citadel, although the Bulldogs did not lack for confidence.  The Citadel came into the game 6-2, having won five straight games, including a 42-35 victory over Navy.  That triumph had been led by quarterback Gene Brown.  However, Brown was injured two weeks later against UT-Chattanooga.

Tommy Burriss had ably filled in at quarterback (no surprise, as he was the former starter) to lead the Bulldogs to victories over Boston University (yes, BU still played football back then) and East Tennessee State.  Brown’s return to the field was highly anticipated, though, as he was a truly gifted director of Charlie Taaffe’s wishbone attack.

A crowd of 20,011 showed up to see the matchup, the second time that season more than 20,000 people had attended a football game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

After a scoreless first quarter, The Citadel would strike first, with Adrian Johnson scoring on a one-yard touchdown run.  Marshall would respond with a short field goal, but the score was only 6-3 at halftime (the Bulldogs having missed the PAT).

However, The Citadel’s offense began to control the game, dominating the time of possession.  Brown entered the game in the second quarter and the rushing yardage started to pile up.  Johnson rushed for 106 yards and Raymond Mazyck added 79 (on just 10 carries).  The Bulldogs as a team rushed for 359 yards, and perhaps more importantly ran 83 plays and kept Marshall’s high-powered offense off the field.

Even when Marshall had the ball, the Herd struggled.  In one sequence, the Herd would run eight consecutive plays inside the Bulldog 5-yard line without scoring a TD.  For the game, Marshall only managed 247 yards of total offense.

The crowd went into a frenzy when Phillip Florence took an end-around 33 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, and when Johnson scored his second touchdown of the day in the fourth period, it was all over.  20-3, The Citadel.

Well, almost over.  As the game ended, the field was invaded by the corps of cadets, a number of whom headed straight for the goalpost in the south endzone.  The uprights were then torn down…okay, maybe not quite torn down.  The cadets were unable to rip the uprights away from the crossbar, and the crossbar remained attached to the stanchion.  It was the Cardinal Richelieu of goalposts.

It didn’t matter, though, as it was the thought that counted.  The administration didn’t seem to mind having to shell out some cash for a new goalpost, either, which may be the best indication of how amazing the atmosphere at the game really was.

Tangent:  the next week, Marshall’s Darby rushed for 262 yards against Western Carolina, which would have been a Southern Conference record — but on the same day, Brown rushed for 286 yards against VMI (on only 13 carries!) to shatter the mark.  Talk about bad timing for Darby.

Now that was a game worth attending.  What about Saturday’s game?  Will it be worth attending for Bulldog fans?

Wofford had enjoyed seven consecutive winning seasons before this year’s campaign.  The Terriers are 2-6, although it should be noted that Wofford played not one but two FBS schools this year, losing to both South Florida and Wisconsin.

However, eyebrows were raised around the conference when the Terriers (picked in the preseason to finish in the league’s top 3) lost 38-9 at UT-Chattanooga.  The Mocs have proven to be the most improved team in the league, but that loss clearly showed that Wofford had some unexpected issues.  The two main themes for the Terriers this year have been injuries and turnovers. 

Wofford entered the season with a fairly inexperienced squad (only nine returning starters), and that inexperience has been compounded by a rash of serious injuries, many of them season-ending.  Only ten players have started every game for the Terriers; in all, 34 different players have made at least one start. 

Many of the losses have been on defense (including pre-season All-SoCon pick Mitch Clark, who has only played one game this year).  The Terriers also suffered the loss of starting fullback Eric Breitenstein (who rushed for 121 yards against South Florida).  Wofford was already missing halfback Jeremy Marshall, who tore an ACL last season against Appalachian State; in this season’s matchup with the Mountaineers, another Terrier halfback, Derek Boyce, tore his ACL.

The Terriers run an option attack known as the “wingbone”, with the emphasis on run.  Wofford, with all its problems, still leads FCS in rushing, averaging 258 yards per game.  However, the Terriers are last in the division in passing, averaging only 70.5 yards per contest.

Quarterback Mitch Allen is completing just 45.2% of his passes.  That’s not a huge problem – after all, he doesn’t attempt that many – but while Allen has thrown five touchdown passes, he’s also thrown five interceptions (in just 62 attempts). 

Wofford as a team has thrown six picks, and has also fumbled 19 times, losing 13.  Losing two-thirds of their fumbles is a bit of bad luck, to be sure, but the Terriers are at heart a possession-oriented team.  Committing nineteen turnovers over eight games is not typical of a Wofford outfit.  The Terriers have committed 3+ turnovers in four games this season, losing all four.

The Terriers are still a dangerous offensive team, even with the turnover bugaboo, but have been inconsistent.  Wofford rolled up 537 yards of total offense against Appalachian State and another 426 against Western Carolina.  Unlike The Citadel’s last opponent, Samford, the Terriers are more than capable of creating big plays (Wofford has had five plays from the line of scrimmage of over 60 yards).

On the other hand, Wofford only had 170 yards of total offense against Elon (The Citadel can relate) and just 151 against UT-Chattanooga.  Part of the inconsistency can be traced to the Terriers’ third down conversion rate, which is just 38.3%. 

For the style of offense Wofford employs, that isn’t good enough.  The problems converting third down have led to Wofford averaging less than 29 minutes per game in time of possession, definitely not what an all-out running team like the Terriers wants.

When Wofford scores first, it is 2-0; when it doesn’t, 0-6.  Wofford is 0-5 when trailing after three quarters and 0-4 when scoring less than 20 points. 

Terrier opponents are averaging 387 yards per game in total offense.  Wofford has forced twelve turnovers in eight games, including five interceptions.  Much like its offense, the Terrier D has not had a lot of luck in the fumble department, forcing twenty but recovering only seven.  That’s the kind of statistic that will eventually turn in Wofford’s favor; let’s hope it doesn’t happen this week.

Wofford’s opponents have been in the “red zone” 36 times this season, and have scored touchdowns on 26 of those occasions.

The Terriers have a solid kick return game, led by running back Mike Rucker.   Wofford has a net punting average of 35.9, which is quite good.  The Terriers have only attempted four field goals all season, making two (both against Elon).

In last year’s game, The Citadel did a good job offensively but couldn’t stop the Terriers, as Wofford had 409 yards of total offense, including 279 yards rushing.  Andre Roberts had a huge game (14 receptions, 190 yards, 3 TDs) but it wasn’t enough, as Wofford stayed one step ahead of the Bulldogs the whole way, committing no turnovers and converting all three of its fourth-down attempts.

You can bet that Roberts will be priority #1 for the Wofford defense, but you can say that about any defense that faces The Citadel.  Who winds up throwing the ball in Roberts’ direction is anybody’s guess. 

What I hope happens is that if both Bart Blanchard and Miguel Starks are healthy, the coaches rotate them by series instead of by play.  If one of them is moving the team down the field, then that’s the guy that needs to stay in the game.  I’m not forgetting about Tommy Edwards, either.  He got the job done against Samford, and he’ll get the call if need be against the Terriers. 

I would like to see more of the type of playcalling used in the game against Furman, which seemed to suit the offensive line.  Speaking of the o-line, that unit will need to contain Wofford defensive end Ameet Pall, a Montreal native who is having a fine season for the Terriers.  Kevin Higgins was quick to note Pall’s abilities during his press conference on Monday.

It’s been too long since The Citadel won in this series.  Hopes are high that the Bulldogs will end that streak on Saturday, in front of an appreciative Homecoming crowd.  I am not so sure, to be honest, but I’ll be there cheering them on regardless.

When an easy win causes unease

The Citadel 46, Presbyterian 21.  Concerns?  Yes. 

Presbyterian rushed for 204 yards against The Citadel, averaging 4.7 yards per rush.  In its first three games this season, PC had rushed for a total of 203 yards. 

Blue Hose running back Trandon Dendy came into the game averaging 3.0 yards per rush, with a season long of 16.  Against the Bulldogs, Dendy rushed for 147 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry, with a 40-yard TD run included.  

Presbyterian’s previous seven games against Southern Conference opponents (all played over the last two years) included five games in which PC had 61 yards rushing or less, and none of more than 140 yards.  The 4.7 yards per rush garnered by the Blue Hose on Saturday is the best PC has done against any SoCon opponent over that period.

The Citadel’s defense occasionally got pushed around by an offensive line that included a 258-lb. left tackle and a 240-lb. center.  This is not good.  

Against Princeton I thought the defense did an excellent job against the run, particularly considering the Tigers have a fine running back in Jordan Culbreath.  Against PC there were problems, unless there was some major sandbagging taking place.  I don’t see that, though, not when it’s rush defense that’s the issue.

At one point late in the second quarter Presbyterian held a 14-13 lead and was moving the ball, combining its rushing attack with a fairly sharp mid-range passing game.  Then, the Blue Hose got a little greedy, and tried a long pass that was intercepted by Bulldog defensive back Cortez Allen.  On the ensuing drive The Citadel scored a touchdown to take a 20-14 lead into halftime, and the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half.  Allen’s pick was probably the key play in the game; it was certainly important in terms of momentum.

Offensively the Bulldogs did not have much in the way of a ground game, but I am not as worried about that as I am the defensive letdown.  That’s because there isn’t a big need to run the ball when the passing game is working like it was Saturday night. 

PC’s strategy for defending Andre Roberts was a bit curious.  Actually, I am not completely sure the Blue Hose had a strategy for defending him.  Twelve catches for 184 yards and four TDs is a good night (and that’s despite dropping a sure 70-yard TD on the first play of the game).

Then there were the special teams…

Two missed extra points.  Yuck.  (Actually, there were three missed opportunities for PATs, as Kevin Higgins went for two at 26-14 early in the third quarter, which I think was too soon to start chasing the lost point.)  I wasn’t crazy about the kickoffs, either, although I think the coaches were trying some different personnel, so that may not be as big a problem.  The punts seemed a touch slow (in terms of getting them off), as well.

Against Appalachian State, The Citadel cannot afford to give away free points like that, or put the defense in a difficult position after a kickoff/punt.  The Mountaineers will be a formidable enough challenge as it is.

A few other, even more random thoughts:

  • The team wore navy pants again, this time with the “home” tops.  Light blue over dark blue — almost indescribably ugly.  Maybe against Appalachian State we can wear gold jerseys to match the navy pants.  Gold isn’t a school color, of course, but at this point that doesn’t appear to be a serious consideration.  The Citadel should just go all out and become the Oregon of the east.  The Bulldogs could have polka dot tops and horizontally striped pants, or some other Nike-approved combination.
  • Speaking of Oregon, the Ducks wore “throwback” uniforms on Saturday (in this case, from the 1990s, which isn’t all that far back, but we are talking about Oregon here).  The Ducks won big.  Navy wore throwback unis too, and also won big.  Previously winless Colorado also wore throwbacks, and proceeded to shut out Wyoming 24-0.  Maybe The Citadel should consider its own “throwbacks” day.  There would be plenty of options.
  • Attendance wasn’t that bad, particularly considering the weather.  It wasn’t great, but it could have been worse.  I will say that it shows the difference between scheduling Presbyterian and scheduling Webber International.  I expect a very good crowd will be at Johnson Hagood this Saturday for a 1pm start against Appalachian State, which will bring plenty of its own fans.
  • The halftime interview was unintentionally amusing.  Kevin Higgins is a very patient man.  Suggestion:  just have someone give Higgins a headset, and let Darren Goldwater ask him a question or two.  SportSouth actually did this when interviewing Wofford coach Mike Ayers at halftime of its broadcast of The Citadel-Wofford game last season, with Sam Wyche asking the questions.  It turned out to be fairly informative (with Ayers spending a lot more time with the announcers than any coach I’ve ever seen interviewed at halftime).
  • It may have “just” been PC, but Keith Gamble’s interception return for a TD was very impressive.  More of that, please.

Now it’s time for the “real” season, as The Citadel begins its eight-game SoCon slate.  The Bulldogs are 2-1, exactly what everyone thought they would be at this point.  I’m still not sure just what to make of this team, but so far, so good.

SoCon tourney “flip” is a flop

Well, I’m disappointed The Citadel lost its tourney opener today to Appalachian State, obviously, but what I wanted to write about doesn’t have much to do with today’s game, but rather the conference tournament as a whole.  It’s a topic that features the SoCon, but it could apply to any conference tournament.  This is going to take a bit of explaining, also, so please bear with me while I outline what I think is a serious flaw in the conference tournament format.

The Southern Conference tournament has two distinct four-team pools (at least, they should be distinct).  One team from each of those pools survives to play on Sunday in a single-game championship.  In other words, it’s possible for a team to go undefeated in its pool, and play a one-loss team for the title, lose the title game, and thus finish with just one loss but no championship.  This is done for television (SportSouth will televise the title game on Sunday).

Now, we’ve all seen this one-game-for-all-the-marbles deal before.  The College World Series did this for over a decade, and nobody really liked the idea of a team in a double-elimination tournament not winning the title despite only losing one game, especially when there were no other undefeated teams.  It happened occasionally, too (Texas did not lose until it fell to one-loss Wichita State in the 1989 final, in only the second year of the single-game championship format; the very next year one-loss Georgia beat previously undefeated Oklahoma State for the crown).

The NCAA has now changed to a best-of-three series for the title, which I think everyone likes.  The current setup is exactly what the college baseball championship should be.  However, what I want to emphasize is that even in its imperfect single-game state, the College World Series bracket was not set up the way the Southern Conference bracket is this year.

Essentially, the league is “flipping” two teams in the bracket for Saturday’s play.  This concept can be confusing, so much so that the conference initially released a bracket .pdf that was incorrect.  It’s now been fixed, and you can see it here.  Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier describes the “flipping” of the bracket:

There are two four-team brackets — Cid, App State, Davidson and GSU in one, and Elon, Furman, C of C and WCU in the other. On day three (Saturday), however, the bracket is flipped, with the 2-0 team from each bracket sent to the other.
If The Cid, for example, wins its first two games in bracket one, it will be off Friday and sent to bracket two for its third game on Saturday. This keeps one team from playing another three times in the tournament. It also means two teams from the same bracket could meet in the finals.

The next-to-last sentence explains the rationale for the “flip” — but the last sentence exposes the problem with it.  Let me give an example:

Let’s say that Appalachian State follows up its win over The Citadel by beating Georgia Southern, and then (after the flip) beats Elon on Saturday in the early afternoon game to advance to the championship game on Sunday.  The Mountaineers would be undefeated, and would have beaten the top three seeds in the tourney.  However, what happens if the opponent in the title game on Sunday were to be The Citadel or Georgia Southern?  That would mean that Appalachian State would have to beat one of those teams twice without losing to win the championship.

In other words, say in that scenario Georgia Southern beats Appy.  They would both have one loss (to each other) but GSU would be the champs and the Mountaineers would be out of luck.  Avoiding a potential third game between the two schools by employing the “flip” would thus prove detrimental to the Mountaineers.

The difference between flipping and not flipping the teams is this:  if you have a one-loss team and an undefeated team, and they come from completely separate pools, then at least you could make the argument that the one-loss team came from a stronger pool, so it winning the title against an undefeated team from the other pool isn’t quite as unfair.  You really don’t even have to make that argument; the fact that the two pools are distinct from one another makes things at least somewhat equitable (in theory).  You certainly don’t have to worry about a situation where two teams beat each other, but one gets an edge because it lost in a double-elimination situation before a one-shot title game.

Flipping teams like this isn’t a bad idea for a true double-elimination tournament.  In fact, in that situation it’s probably a good thing.  When there is already an inherent flaw in a format, however, trying to get even cuter with the bracketing just serves to exponentially increase the chances of having an unjust resolution to the tournament.