Game Review, 2016: Samford

The Citadel 37, Samford 34 (OT).

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Video from WCSC-TV

Video from WCIV-TV

– Video from WCBD-TV

– Post-game press conference, featuring Brent Thompson, Dee Delaney, Cam Jackson, Tevin Floyd, Nick Jeffreys, Cody Clark, and Tyler Renew (video)

– School release from The Citadel

– School release from Samford

– Samford’s first-half highlights package (video)

– Samford’s second-half and post-game highlights package (video)

– Game story, The Birmingham News

Box score

The Citadel’s post-game notes

Nick Jeffreys, versatility personified

– Brent Thompson’s post-game speech, interrupted briefly due to locker room crowd-surfing by a special guest (video)

– Here is a little video (via Twitter) of Brent Thompson’s own crowd-surfing ability

Game highlights (video)

– On-field end-game videos via the Facebook page for The Citadel Sports: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3

– That page on Facebook also has a video clip of the seniors being recognized prior to the game

Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cam Jackson’s ridiculous 63-yard run

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze call Cody Clark’s game-tying field goal

– Mike Legg and Lee Glaze with the end-of-game call

I hardly know where to begin.

Well, I guess I could start by saying that I was surprised by quite a few things that happened on the field on Saturday…

While talking to a couple of people before the game, the subject of Samford’s defense came up. I suggested that because of SU’s “Bear” front, which tends to clog up the middle of the line, Tyler Renew would probably not have a big game.

Renew proceeded to have one of the greatest rushing days in The Citadel’s long gridiron history.  He made me look like a dope. (I’m glad he did.)

I also wasn’t expecting Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges to turn into a dual-threat star. Hodges had entered the game with only 71 net rushing yards all season. Even if you take out sacks, he still had less than 240 yards on the ground, and had not carried the ball for more than 12 yards on any play.

However, you have to give Samford’s coaching staff credit for taking advantage of an opportunity and making an adjustment in the game plan. As a result, Hodges scored two rushing touchdowns (one for 57 yards) and had two other short runs for first downs.

He was clearly athletic enough to run, including a Houdini act late in the first half that turned a would-be sack into an eight-yard pickup, setting up a field goal.

Then, I wrote in my preview that turnovers would be a critical factor in the game. Naturally, neither team committed a turnover.

The one thing I got right had nothing to do with any type of intellectual analysis.

When asked before the game whether or not I thought The Citadel would prevail, I basically went with the theory that while Samford was a difficult matchup, the Bulldogs had found a way to win all season, and that maybe it was just their year.

They did find a way to win again, and it is their year. It is also a season for the ages.

Random thoughts from an increasingly frazzled fan:

– The atmosphere on Saturday was fantastic. The crowd was into the game from the opening kickoff, despite the delay in clearing the field after the Corps of Cadets and all the reunion classes marched into the stadium. It also took a little time for some of the fans in the East stands to get to their seats.

I was a little concerned when the third quarter began, because I noticed a lot of people had left, presumably to go to their respective tailgates. However, when I looked around a few minutes later, the home stands were packed once again.

By the numbers, it wasn’t one of the larger crowds in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (though it was the most-attended game at The Citadel since 2009). However, there was an unusual intensity in the stadium that could be felt by anyone who was there.

I’ve been to a lot of games over the years at JHS. I’m not sure how I would rank that one in terms of an all-around experience.

My top-ranked game in that respect has always been the 1988 contest against Marshall. I probably wouldn’t put Saturday’s matchup on that level, but it was close. Very close.

– When you look at the statistics, it’s a little surprising the game went to overtime. The Citadel dominated time of possession (as expected), ran many more plays (89 to 67), rung up 542 yards of total offense, and held Samford to 280 passing yards (on 46 attempts). As mentioned, there were no turnovers.

However, Samford had a few things go in its favor.

For one thing, SU placekicker Reece Everett had a good game. While he may have missed the fateful 44-yard attempt in overtime, Everett also made two long field goals during the game, from 51 and 44 yards. Prior to Saturday, Everett’s longest made field goal of the season had only been 36 yards.

Samford also benefited from an advantage in field position. This was partly because of a four-yard edge in net punting, but mostly due to stopping The Citadel twice on fourth-down conversion attempts, including one at The Citadel’s own 40-yard line in the fourth quarter. That was a gamble by Brent Thompson which did not pay off. Hey, it happens.

Getting points from your kicker without having to advance to the Red Zone, taking advantage of good field position, and those big run plays by Hodges…they all added up for Samford, and put it in position to win the game.

The Citadel also got hurt by a double whammy of officiating decisions in the fourth quarter. The second of those was a pass interference call that was made by an official 20 yards away from the play, a dubious call exacerbated by the lateness of the flag.

However, that paled in comparison to a non-call made on the previous play, an obvious intentional grounding call that was ignored by the referee.

not-grounding

If that had been called, Samford would have had a 3rd-and-17 (if not longer), instead of the much more manageable 3rd-and-7 that led to the pass interference penalty.

During the game, Samford had five 3rd-down conversion attempts of longer than seven yards. It was 0 for 5 converting in those situations, with three incomplete passes and a sack.

As Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier tweeted after the game, “If Citadel doesn’t win, that no grounding/pass interference sequence goes down in Bulldog/SoCon ref lore”. Luckily for The Citadel (and the Southern Conference), the Bulldogs overcame that situation.

– One of those 3rd-and-long situations for Samford came in overtime. On 3rd-and-12, Devlin Hodges sat back in the pocket and waited…and waited…and waited…and moved to his right, then waited some more…and waited…and waited…and finally threw the football out of bounds.

The play seemed to take an eternity. It almost did. Hodges threw the ball 9.7 seconds after receiving the snap.

That’s an extremely long time for a QB to hold the ball and not find an open receiver. It was great downfield coverage by the Bulldogs, to say the least.

– I mentioned this on my Twitter feed on Saturday night, but I think it’s worth repeating here.

There is a cliché that gets tossed around all the time (usually from TV game analysts) that goes something like this: triple option teams can’t play from behind, mainly because they don’t pass the ball enough (or effectively).

On Saturday, The Citadel trailed by ten points with just 5:30 left in regulation and the clock running, and faced a 3rd-and-7 from its own 31-yard line. From that point forward through the end of the game, the Bulldogs did not complete a pass.

They still won.

– The Citadel clinched an automatic berth in the FCS playoffs with the win. It has not, however, won the “outright” SoCon title yet.

Not everyone seems to understand how that works. Just in case you weren’t sure:

The Citadel has clinched at least a share of the league crown. However, the automatic bid to the playoffs does not constitute an outright championship. Chattanooga can still tie The Citadel for the conference title if the Mocs beat Wofford, and The Citadel loses to VMI.

Last year, the situation was reversed. Chattanooga got the automatic berth in the playoffs by virtue of its victory over The Citadel, but shared the league title with the Bulldogs because the teams finished with the same conference record (the Mocs having earlier lost to Mercer).

In other words, it’s just another reason The Citadel needs to beat VMI next week.

Of course, The Citadel doesn’t really need another reason to beat VMI, not with the coveted Silver Shako at stake. It is the greatest trophy in all of sports, and it needs to stay in Charleston, where it belongs.

I’m glad the freshmen in the corps of cadets are making the trip to Virginia for the game. I’ll write more about VMI when I preview the matchup later in the week. For now, I’ll just say that any alumnus of The Citadel ought to visit VMI at least once, just to get an idea of the similarities and differences between the two schools.

The Citadel will be trying to win the outright league title while finishing undefeated in SoCon play for the first time ever, which strikes me as another good reason to make the trip.

I may have a separate post prior to the game preview that deals with the FCS playoff structure, which seems to be a source of confusion in some quarters (understandably so). If I have time, I’ll outline the basics, explain all the historical problems associated with the selections, mention a few things to watch, etc.

For now, I’ll close with the usual motley assortment of pictures. This week, I wanted to include some non-football shots, since it was Homecoming. I also wandered by the temporary museum in Daniel Library and took a few photos there. Most of the pictures are annotated.

2016 Football, Game 9: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on November 5, 2016. The game will not be televised

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com. Kevin Fitzgerald will provide play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre supplies the analysis. 

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

Mike Legg (the “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.

Links of interest:

– Game notes for The Citadel and Samford

SoCon weekly release

– The Citadel versus Samford: a clash of styles

– Style seems to be the word choice of the week for this game

– Aiming for a second straight SoCon title

– Samford continues on a “brutal” road stretch

Brent Thompson’s 11/1 press conference, including comments from Tevin Floyd and Cam Jackson (video)

Brent Thompson’s 11/2 radio show (video)

– Donnell Boucher is flexible, and that’s very good for The Citadel

– Samford head coach Chris Hatcher and quarterback Devlin Hodges preview the game against The Citadel (video)

– Brief interview with Samford offensive coordinator Russ Callaway (video)

– Brief interview with Samford defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Mississippi State (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Wofford (video)

– Highlights of Samford’s game against Chattanooga: first half and second half/postgame (video)

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

– NCAA FCS selection committee rankings for November 3

– Four players from The Citadel named Academic All-District

– Homecoming Schedule

– The Citadel will honor the late Charles Foster

– Groundbreaking for the War Memorial takes place on November 4

At his weekly press conference, a member of the local media asked Brent Thompson about recruiting. The reporter suggested that the current players at The Citadel are better athletes than those who preceded them. Thompson’s response:

I think we’re doing a good job of recruiting our type of player, not necessarily the better athletes. We’ve certainly got some good athletes…

…really, a lot of it is more the development and retention of those players. I think over the past three years, since I’ve been here, we’ve lost very few players. We’re going to naturally be a better football team when we’ve got fourth- and fifth-year players, rather than those first- and second-year players. We’ve got a veteran ball club at this point, and that’s what we attribute a lot of [our success].

After a follow-up question, Thompson added:

When it comes to recruiting, the first thing that we really look for are good football players. We know that we can win and we can train good football players. They’ve got to have it inside of them first…

We’ve got to do our research. It takes a long time for us to figure out the players [out there] we want to recruit here. It comes down to the academics, it comes down to the corps of cadets, it comes down to being a good football player.

Sometimes it’s just not a good fit for us, and we understand that, and we can move on from that. Duggar Baucom has a great saying: “The next ‘No’ gets me closer to the next ‘Yes’.”

…We know that there are plenty of good football players out there for The Citadel, that fit what we do.

Retention is a key at most schools, of course, but it is absolutely the difference-maker at The Citadel, due to the nature of the institution. Too many coaches (in a wide variety of sports) have never completely grasped this, or have needed a few years at the military college to fully understand it.

For example, The Citadel football program’s attrition rate in 2005, 2006, and 2007 was poor (especially 2005; by the 2008 season, only six players from that class of recruits were still on the team). It is hard to build a consistently successful program when there is a revolving door of players, especially when bringing in undergraduate transfers is generally impractical (and rare).

I’ve written about this before, but as a comparison, here are some numbers from a few of Charlie Taaffe’s recruiting classes:

There were nine 5th-year seniors on the 1992 SoCon title team, including Jack Douglas, Lester Smith, and Carey Cash. Those players were part of Taaffe’s second recruiting class. It was obviously a tremendous group of recruits; we’re not just talking about quantity, but quality.

Taaffe brought in sixteen recruits the following year (1989). All sixteen were on the team for at least two years; fifteen completed four years. Fourteen of them were on the postseason two-deep in 1992.

It was actually even a better class than that, because three walkons from that year also made the ’92 two-deep. Sixteen recruits, eighteen significant contributors. That’s about as good as it gets.

Those two classes made up the foundation of the 1992 Southern Conference championship team.

The fourth year wasn’t quite as good, but it was okay. Of the seventeen recruits from that year, thirteen eventually lettered, with ten of the aforementioned 1992 two-deep.

The following year’s class was not as successful, with only eight of eighteen recruits lettering during their respective careers at The Citadel. That is indicative of a considerable amount of attrition.

Given all that, it’s not surprising the win totals, starting in 1989, were (in order): 5, 7, 7, 11, 5, 6, and 2 (Taaffe’s final season).

The easiest way to prevent attrition at The Citadel? Recruit potential cadets who can become good players, as opposed to recruiting players and trying to make them cadets.

It’s obviously not that simple; coaches have to bring in talented athletes. However, those talented athletes have to be capable of handling (and embracing) the challenge that is The Citadel, like all cadets.

Playoffs? Don’t talk about — playoffs? Are you kidding me?

Yes, Jim Mora, I’m going to talk about the playoffs for a few paragraphs.

While the team has to take things one game at a time, I’m a fan. It’s my constitutional duty to look ahead and make potentially unfounded assumptions based on events that haven’t yet taken place.

On Thursday, the NCAA selection committee for the FCS playoffs released the first of three preliminary Top-10 rankings. I anticipated that the rankings would resemble a train wreck, and I was not disappointed.

First, they were initially released on ESPNU, midway through a program called “College Football Daily”. It was clear that show anchor Brendan Fitzgerald and analyst Jason Sehorn knew very little about the FCS, and had no enthusiasm for the subject.

Both were under the impression that 16 teams made the playoffs (instead of 24, the actual number). The rankings release was interspersed with year-old highlight clips.

Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free-Press tweeted afterwards that the NCAA should just send out the rankings via email next week and forget about the TV spot. I couldn’t agree more.

As for the rankings themselves, they do not make a lot of sense from either an analytical or “eyeball” perspective. They smack of politics, to be honest, which should not surprise anyone.

Here are the Week 1 rankings:

Rank School
1 Jacksonville State
2 Sam Houston State
3 Eastern Washington
4 North Dakota State
5 James Madison
6 The Citadel
7 Richmond
8 Chattanooga
9 Charleston Southern
10 Central Arkansas

A few observations:

  • Samford, not on this list, beat #10 Central Arkansas on the road and has a much better strength of schedule (10th in FCS to 74th)
  • Sam Houston State, like The Citadel, is undefeated; unlike the Bulldogs, the Bearkats have not beaten a single D-1 team with a winning record, yet are four spots ahead of The Citadel
  • There are two teams in the Top 10 with victories over other Top 10 teams, The Citadel and North Dakota State (which has two, plus a victory over Iowa); each has a record that is better or the same as #1 Jacksonville State (and its #88 schedule strength)
  • Eastern Washington (7-1) has a win over a team in the FBS top 25, two victories over FCS teams with winning records, and lost in OT at North Dakota State, but is still behind Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, for no discernible reason

Basically, the committee seems to be saying that the way to get a top seed is to play in a below-average league and schedule even weaker teams out of conference.

What are the ramifications for the Southern Conference (including The Citadel)?

Many observers were under the impression that the SoCon was going to place three teams in the FCS playoffs this season, with an outside shot of four squads making the field. After reviewing these rankings, however, I am not so sure.

Right now, I still think the most likely outcome is that three SoCon teams advance to the postseason. However, there is now some doubt. If these rankings are a true reflection of what we can expect from the selection committee, all bets are off.

If that group is going to do things like rank Central Arkansas #10, and completely ignore strength of schedule, it brings in possibilities that could spell trouble for the SoCon.

After last week’s victory over ETSU, I thought The Citadel was probably a “lock” for postseason play, even if it didn’t win another game. I no longer believe that to be the case.

The Citadel needs to keep winning. The same is true for Samford and Chattanooga. If anything, this week’s game in Charleston just got a little more important.

Besides being Homecoming, Saturday will be the final regular-season game at Johnson Hagood Stadium this year. I am specifying “regular-season” because, like all Bulldog fans, I am hopeful that The Citadel will qualify for the playoffs, and in doing so hosts a postseason game or two (or three). It’s just one more reason why every game matters this time of year.

The Bulldogs have played three games at JHS so far this season, but have yet to sport the light blue jerseys/white pants combination that is the traditional home uniform.

I have refrained from making uniform-related comments to this point in the 2016 campaign, but I think it would be nice if the team wore the actual school colors at home once in a while. I realize in some quarters that opinion is considered just short of perverse.

If The Citadel does not wear the traditional home ensemble, it will mark the first time since 2010 that the Bulldogs did not do so for at least one home game. That would be a shame, particularly as it is by far the best of the myriad uniform combinations currently in the rotation.

One problem when writing about The Citadel and Samford is that both are “Bulldogs”. Therefore, as always, I have to define some terms.

In this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. That is because I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll refer to Samford as “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, or the “Baptist Tigers”.

That’s right, Baptist Tigers. I mentioned this last year, but it’s well worth repeating:

The Howard College [later to be renamed Samford] team was known originally as the “Baptist Tigers.” However, rival Auburn also had “Tigers” as a nickname. Howard’s teams went by “Baptist Bears” until Dec. 14, 1916, when the student body voted two-to-one for the “Crimson Bulldog” over the “Baptist Bears.” Students decided that a bulldog could eat more Birmingham-Southern Panther meat than a bear could.

It seems to me that “Crimson Bulldog” is a little too reminiscent of “Crimson Tide”, which might explain why the “crimson” part is no longer in usage. I also think that someone seriously underestimated bears when it comes to their ability to eat.

In 1987, Terry Bowden took over as head coach at Samford. He had been coaching at Salem College in West Virginia, and when he took the Samford job he brought his quarterback from Salem with him.

That QB was Jimbo Fisher. The current Florida State coach played for one season at Samford, setting a few dozen records, all with his original hair, and then was an assistant coach at the school for the next five seasons.

Of course, Terry’s father Bobby Bowden both played and coached at Samford (then known as Howard). A few other fun facts:

  • Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961, one of only two such transactions involving a law school, and the only one in which the law school moved across state lines. Yes, that’s the same Cumberland University that lost 222-0 to Georgia Tech in 1916.
  • The college played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, defeating Birmingham-Southern 9-0 on November 19, 1927.
  • Back in the day, the football program was happy to hop on a train to play an opponent. That included matchups with Duquesne at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, North Dakota in Grand Forks, and Havana National University (in Cuba). The team also played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico in 1954 and 1963.

Okay, now back to the cold, hard world of 2016 pigskin…

Samford is 6-2 this season, 4-1 in the SoCon.

SU opened the season with a 77-7 win over woefully outmatched Mars Hill, a Division II school (that also happens to be Mike Houston’s alma mater). It was the first time Samford had scored 70 or more points in a game in almost 30 years.

The Birmingham Bulldogs rolled up 573 yards of total offense in 96 plays. The defense was in fine form, too, allowing only 136 yards of total offense and adding a fumble return TD for good measure.

The next week, SU’s defense added two more defensive touchdowns to its total, a major reason Samford defeated Central Arkansas 35-29. That game was played at UCA.

The result made little sense from a statistical standpoint. Samford was outgained 577 to 257, as Central Arkansas won the time of possession battle by over 13 minutes and limited SU to just 56 offensive plays from scrimmage.

Samford was 3 for 16 on 3rd-down conversion attempts, was held to negative rushing yards, and did not run a play in the red zone. The Birmingham Bulldogs prevailed anyway. It’s a wonderful, wacky world.

After a bye week, Samford traveled to Chattanooga and got waxed by the Mocs, 41-21. UTC was only 6 for 17 on third-down conversion attempts, but still put up 518 yards of total offense and had a time of possession edge of over 18 minutes.

Chattanooga jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the contest and Samford never got closer than 10 points after that. SU threw 53 passes for 343 yards, but only rushed for 46 yards on 20 attempts.

Back in the homey confines of Seibert Stadium, the Birmingham Bulldogs outlasted Wofford 28-26. The Terriers scored a touchdown with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter to get within two points, but Samford intercepted a pass attempt on the two-point conversion try and held on for the victory.

The two teams combined for 20 penalties, but no turnovers. Wofford had a time of possession edge of over 18 minutes, ran 21 more plays, outgained Samford by 44 yards, and was 9 of 18 on third down (as compared to SU’s 4 for 12).

Samford won despite that, mainly due to an impressive, consistent performance from quarterback Devlin Hodges, who was 28 for 32 for 315 yards and four TD passes.

The following week, SU defeated Furman 38-21 in Greenville. Hodges threw for 411 yards (27 for 38, with three touchdowns and one interception). Samford finished with 517 total yards, including 106 rushing yards.

SU returned home and blasted VMI, 55-21. Samford quarterbacks combined to throw six touchdowns passes, while the defense chipped in with another return TD, this time a pick-six.

The score was 38-14 at halftime. SU finished with 462 passing yards.

Samford had “only” 375 passing yards in its next game, against Western Carolina, but added 215 rushing yards in a 30-17 victory. SU led 13-7 at the break, but then took control of the contest with two third-quarter TDs.

The victory over WCU was unusual in the sense that Samford actually had the edge in time of possession, a function of its success on the ground. K’rondis Larry rushed for 167 yards on 22 carries. They were consistent gains, too, as his longest run from scrimmage was 29 yards.

Last week, Samford lost 56-41 to Mississippi State. In eighteen previous meetings between the two schools, the Baptist Tigers had scored a total of 31 points.

Samford won the time of possession battle for a second straight week; just as it did against Western Carolina, SU had success running the ball as well as throwing it.

SU ran 104 (!) offensive plays from scrimmage against Mississippi State, including 70 pass attempts. The only offensive negative was three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

A few relevant stats for Samford:

SU Opp
Points/game 40.6 27.2
Rushing yardage 847 1431
Yards/rush 3.5 3.9
Rush TDs 9 15
Passing yardage 3008 1869
Comp-Att-Int 264-382-8 152-269-9
Average/pass att 7.9 6.9
Passing TDs 30 12
Total offense 3855 3300
Total plays 625 636
Yards/play 6.2 5.2
Fumbles/lost 10/4 15/8
Penalties-pen yds 54-576 54-507
Pen yards/game 72.0 63.4
Net punt average 39.3 34.9
Time of poss/game 26:33 33:27
3rd-down conv 43/122 49/140
3rd-down conv % 35.2% 35.0%
Sacks by-yards 16-100 20-135
Red Zone TD% (27-38) 71% (19-30) 63%
  • Samford is 8th nationally in scoring offense, 10th nationally in total offense, and 2nd in passing offense (376 yards per game)
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs are 13th in FCS in pass efficiency offense
  • SU is 8th in the country in net punting
  • Samford is 116th out of 122 teams in time of possession
  • SU is 34th nationally in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • Samford has 4 defensive TDs; only three FCS teams have more this season
  • The Birmingham Bulldogs are 15th in turnovers gained and 22nd in turnover margin

Now let’s take a quick look at The Citadel in the same categories:

The Citadel Opp
Points/game 30 16.8
Rushing yardage 2903 1036
Rushing attempts 526 257
Yards/rush 5.5 4
Rushing TDs 25-Jan 10
Passing yardage 461 1365
Comp-Att-Int 29-70-2 105-200-8
Average/pass att 6.6 6.8
Passing TDs 4 6
Total offense 3364 2401
Total plays 596 457
Yards/play 5.6 5.3
Fumbles/lost 12/6 11/7
Pen-pen yards 40-425 34-329
Pen yards/game 53.1 41.1
Net punt average 37.5 36.3
Time of poss/game 34:10 25:49
3rd-down conv 64/130 29/96
3rd-down conv % 49.2% 30.2%
Sacks by-yards 22-153 0-0
Red Zone TD% (20-35) 57% (9-17) 53%
  • The Citadel is second nationally in rushing offense (363 yards per game)
  • The Bulldogs are ninth in the country in offensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is 16th in turnover margin, and 10th in turnovers lost
  • After leading the nation in the category two weeks ago, The Citadel is now 4th in time of possession
  • The Citadel is seventh in scoring defense, 13th in total defense, and 14th in passing yards allowed
  • The Bulldogs are 12th in defensive third down conversion rate
  • The Citadel remains the only team in FCS not to allow a sack so far this season

It could be argued that Samford’s game against Wofford provides the most answers when it comes to trying to determine how Saturday’s game will be played. With that in mind, here are some comments from the Terriers about their game versus the Birmingham Bulldogs. These are all related to Samford’s offense:

“Hodges is an All-American type of quarterback,” Wofford defensive end Tyler Vaughn said. “If you give him time, even the slightest bit of time, he’ll pick you apart. That’s kind of what he did.”

“A lot of the throws were nickel-and-dime routes. That’s their philosophy,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “You know it’s going to happen. They’re going to get their share of completions. But you just hope you can make the tackle. …The ones that kill you are the ones where you blow the coverage and the ball goes over your heads. That happened a couple of times.”

Wofford’s defense has been able to apply a great deal of pressure to opposing quarterbacks so far this season, well ahead of last season’s pace with 34 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. The Terriers got to Hodges just twice, one by Vaughn and one by Steven Cornellier.

“Their offensive line was doing some really good things,” Vaughn said. “We couldn’t get to the quarterback as fast as we wanted, especially in the first half (falling behind, 21-10). In the second half, we got back to Wofford defense and got a little more pressure. But it was hard.

“The tough thing for us was trying to catch up to 5-foot-10 guys who can run. We’re bigger guys. If they got a good block somewhere and we didn’t do our assignment right, it was all that much harder for us linemen to get up field and help catch the receivers.”

“The screen plays are safe plays for them,” Ayers said. “It’s like a run play. They did a great job of blocking and getting into the chute and getting some big yardage out of it.”

Wofford safety Jaleel Green said the Terriers had to win individual matchups to have any chance of containing the short passes.

“When they get out there and start setting up screens, it’s all about one-on-one matchups,” Green said. “If you can beat a block, you can slow them down. But they would put an extra guy out there and make us pay a couple of times, turning them into big runs.”

Samford has thrown the football on 61% of its offensive plays in its first eight games of the season. Slightly over 78% of its total yardage has come via the air.

Starting quarterback Devlin Hodges (6’1″, 213 lbs.) is a redshirt sophomore from Kimberly, Alabama, who was named the league’s offensive player of the month for October. Hodges is completing 69.2% of his passes, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt, with 28 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.

Hodges more or less “arrived” on the scene last season when he entered Samford’s game against The Citadel in relief. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 271 yards versus the Bulldogs in that contest, including an 83-yard TD strike.

Samford rotates a trio of running backs, though in the last two games K’rondis Larry (5’6″, 150 lbs.) has seen the bulk of the action. Besides the aforementioned 167 yards versus Western Carolina, he ran for 99 yards against Mississippi State, including a 68-yard scamper. Larry is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.

Karel Hamilton (6’1″, 202 lbs.) is a senior from Valrico, Floria. The preseason all-conference selection had 16 receptions against Western Carolina. He had 213 receiving yards against Mississippi State.

The Citadel is all too aware of how explosive Hamilton can be, as he had 15 catches and 220 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season, including that 83-yard bomb thrown by Hodges. It is possible that Hamilton will eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the season on Saturday.

It would be a mistake to focus solely on Hamilton, though, as Samford has five other players with at least eighteen receptions this year. That group includes Kelvin McKnight (5’8″, 185 lbs.), a sophomore with six TD catches so far this season. McKnight is also an outstanding punt returner, averaging an eye-opening 9.5 yards per return despite not breaking one for a TD — yet.

Emmanuel Obajimi (6’0″, 200 lbs.) is a redshirt senior; like Hamilton and McKnight, he is a Florida native. All three can take a short toss and go a long way with it. In the case of Obajimi, that includes receptions of 61 yards versus VMI and 38 yards against Wofford.

Obajimi and K’rondis Larry are SU’s primary kick returners. It should be noted that in last week’s game against Mississippi State, Obajimi did not play.

Samford’s sturdy starting offensive line features three seniors (two of whom are fifth-year players) and averages 6’4″, 300 lbs.

Left guard Armando Bonheur (6’3″, 305 lbs.) leads the way for the o-line. The preseason all-league pick (who was an all-SoCon coach’s choice at the end of last season) is a redshirt senior from Orange Park, Florida.

Under longtime defensive coordinator Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has traditionally employed a “Bear” front against The Citadel’s triple option attack. For several years, Bulldogs really struggled moving the football, with terrible third-down conversion rates.

In the last two seasons, though, The Citadel has improved in that category, picking up conversions at a 39% clip. That doesn’t seem all that great, and it really isn’t, but it’s miles better than what the Bulldogs did from 2010-12 (15%).

Linebacker Shaheed Salmon (6’1″, 226 lbs.), a junior from Tampa, was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month for October. Salmon leads Samford in tackles with 81, including 13 for loss. He also has seven pass breakups, and blocked a field goal attempt against VMI.

Defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden (6’1″, 240 lbs.) was a preseason all-conference selection. The redshirt sophomore has 11 tackles for loss this year, including 4 1/2 sacks.

Senior noseguard Jared Holloway (6’1″, 290 lbs.) has 3 1/2 sacks for the Birmingham Bulldogs, along with two forced fumbles. Holloway will miss the first half of Saturday’s game after being ejected for targeting in the second half of Samford’s game against Mississippi State.

Jamerson Blount (6’0″, 180 lbs.) had 11 tackles last season against The Citadel. The free safety from Tallahassee was a preseason all-league pick. Blount, a senior, is second on the team in tackles with 69.

Austin Barnard (6’4″, 200 lbs.) is Samford’s punter. Of his 41 punts this season, 15 have been downed inside the 20.

As was mentioned above, SU is 8th in all of FCS in net punting. The redshirt sophomore also handles kickoffs for the Birmingham Bulldogs.

Starting placekicker Reece Everett (5’11”, 180 lbs.) is 8 for 11 converting field goal attempts this year, with a long of 36 yards. His longest attempt this year has been 51 yards. Everett has only missed one extra point all season.

Samford has played four home contests this season. On the statistical summaries for those games, the following individuals were listed as the official scorers:

  • Homer Simpson (twice)
  • Johnny Manziel
  • Jon Coctosen

I believe that Samford’s official scorer against Mars Hill actually spells his name “John Coctostan”. Given that Coctostan is a Scots-Romanian surname, it is perhaps not surprising that the person who had to input the name in the stats book misspelled it.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 69 degrees. The projected low on Saturday night is 49 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4.5-point favorite over Samford, with an over/under of 58.5.

The line has really fluctuated this week. The Citadel opened as a 2.5-point favorite, but less than nine hours later the game had been bet down to a pick’em. Since then, however, the line has moved even more the other way.

I’m not a gambler, so I don’t have any real insight as to all that. It may not take a lot of money to really move FCS lines, though.

One other thing: the over/under is down one point from where it opened earlier in the week.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Wofford is a 5-point favorite at Furman; Western Carolina is a 6.5-point favorite over VMI; and Mercer is a 23.5-point favorite against East Tennessee State.

Chattanooga is off this week.

Gardner-Webb (now 3-6 on the season) is a 18.5-point underdog at Charleston Southern. North Carolina (6-2) is a 10.5-point favorite against Georgia Tech.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 5th in FCS (moving up one spot from last week). Samford is ranked 12th (down one position from last week).

Massey projects The Citadel to have a 58% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 33, Samford 30.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (10th), Wofford (23rd), Mercer (44th), Furman (47th), Gardner-Webb (60th), Western Carolina (66th), VMI (68th), East Tennessee State (86th).

The top ten in Massey’s rankings, in order: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Central Arkansas, The Citadel, Youngstown State, South Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Charleston Southern, Chattanooga.

– Samford’s game notes roster includes 33 natives of Alabama, but more of its players actually hail from Georgia (35). Other states represented on its roster: Florida (23), Tennessee (12), North Carolina (3), Mississippi (2), and one each from Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oregon, and California.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– After this Saturday, Samford plays two more conference games. SU hosts Mercer next week, and then travels to East Tennessee State for its regular-season finale.

– Samford will play Georgia next year, and will also start a four-game series with Kennesaw State in 2017.

– There were no new names on The Citadel’s two-deep this week, the fifth consecutive week that has been the case.

– As of early Friday morning, there were three tickets remaining for purchase in the West Stands. Yes, three.

I cannot really get a good sense of how many seats are available in the East Stands, at least not from looking at the stadium map infographic on the ticket sales website. I’m going to make what is probably a very bad guess and say there are about 2,000 tickets left on that side. I could be way off in either direction, to be honest.

– The Citadel will be attempting to win its fifth consecutive Homecoming game on Saturday. The Bulldogs won their fifth straight Parents’ Day game earlier in the season when they defeated Chattanooga.

The nine consecutive “celebration” victories are a modern-day school record.

There is not much left to be said about Saturday’s game. It is a big game, to be sure, but that’s because every game remaining on the schedule is a big game. That’s what happens when you start 8-0.

(I said that when the Bulldogs were 6-0 and 7-0, too, but hey, it’s still true.)

I think Samford is going to be a very tough matchup for The Citadel. I also believe that The Citadel is going to be a very tough matchup for Samford.

This week, time of possession has received a considerable amount of attention (and indeed, I’ve focused on it myself). That means third-down conversions will be key. In many respects, it’s a repeat of the Chattanooga game in terms of how the Bulldogs want to play the game.

However, I think turnovers will be an even more important factor than they usually are (and they’re usually of significant importance). That is simply because of the disparate ways the two teams approach the game from an offensive perspective. It’s not just about ball control, but the results of each team’s drives.

Brent Thompson also noted during his radio show that he has concerns with Samford’s special teams. That will be something to watch on Saturday, particularly on punt returns.

I can’t wait for Saturday. It’s going to be intense, and just a little crazy…

…and that’s before the game even starts.

2016 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. Chattanooga

The Citadel vs. Chattanooga, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on October 15. The game be televised on multiple Fox regional sports networks, including Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Midwest+, Fox Sports North+, and Fox Sports San Diego. Kevin Fitzgerald will provide play-by-play, while Sadath Jean-Pierre supplies the analysis. 

The game will also be streamed on ESPN3.com and Fox Sports Go.

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

Mike Legg (the “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.

Links of interest:

Parents’ Weekend information

– Game notes for The Citadel and Chattanooga

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson 10/11 press conference, including comments from Tevin Floyd and Cam Jackson (video)

Brent Thompson’s 10/12 radio show (video)

Brent Thompson interviewed by Phil Korblut of SportsTalk (audio)

Russ Huesman’s 10/11 press conference (video)

UTC 10/11 press conference featuring players Taylor Reynolds and Alejandro Bennifield (video)

Inside Chattanooga Football (video)

The Citadel has four road wins, most in Division I

With the hurricane behind them, Bulldogs ready to play Chattanooga

Chattanooga eager to play The Citadel

The stress from the upcoming game gives Mocs coach Russ Huesman a sore neck

Mocs running back Derrick Craine is having a very good season (again)

Chattanooga practicing in full pads to prepare for The Citadel

Ultimately, it’s just another conference game

Hey, a little news about Bulldog Hoops!

Updated options for North Greenville tickets

Ryan Bednar has come a long way

Radio open for the game on The Citadel Sports Network

– FCS Coaches’ Poll

Additional link of interest that isn’t necessarily sports-related (although there is a little football talk):

A conversation with John Rosa

I linked the ticket options update above, but let’s take a closer look:

Fans who have tickets for last week’s rescheduled football game against North Greenville can use them for this week’s top-10 matchup against Chattanooga.

“Because The Citadel’s Parents Weekend has been rescheduled to this weekend, we felt we needed to offer fans who purchased tickets because of Parents Weekend the opportunity to still use those as originally intended,” Athletic Director Jim Senter said. “We understand many plans were changed due to the hurricane, and we want to allow those who planned to attend our football game as part of their Parents Weekend activities to still be able to do that.”

Anyone with a ticket to the North Greenville game that was not used last Thursday night at North Greenville can exchange that ticket for admission to Saturday’s home game against Chattanooga. Exchanges are required because if a ticket has already been sold in that seat for this week’s game, the North Greenville ticket holders will be reseated to the best available location. Every effort will be made to keep seat locations as close to the original location as possible.

Fans unable to attend this week’s game will have their ticket honored with an additional ticket in general admission seating at The Citadel’s home game against ETSU on Oct. 29 or can donate their ticket to the Junior Bulldog program, which benefits orphanages and foster families in the Lowcountry.

I think it may be difficult for some people who had tickets to the North Greenville game to be in attendance for the Chattanooga contest. Presumably a significant amount of tickets were purchased by families as part of the Parents’ Weekend festivities. Some of them will return, but a week’s notice is going to be tough for more than a few folks, especially those who hail from outside the southeastern United States.

I’m not sure how that will affect this week’s turnout, or general ticket availability. How much reseating will be necessary?

Earlier this week, my initial reaction to the talk about this being a sellout, or a near-sellout, was just that: it was only talk.

Chattanooga isn’t going to bring a lot of people (the Mocs rarely do; it’s a long trip, after all). No one should be expecting as many Parents’ Day attendees on short notice as there would have been for the North Greenville game. I didn’t see how attendance would make a big jump.

Now, though, I get the impression that Johnson Hagood Stadium will be close to a packed house, especially with any kind of decent walk-up crowd (and the weather on Saturday will apparently be cooperating on that front). The scene should look great on TV, too.

I know The Citadel’s players are more than ready to finally play another home game. It appears the same may be true of the Bulldogs’ fan base, as well. Eight of the last nine games played by The Citadel have been on the road; I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

I will say this, though. If someone plans on exchanging a ticket from the North Greenville game for a Chattanooga ducat, getting to the stadium early should be a priority. I would imagine there may quite a line to exchange those tickets.

When it was suggested to Cam Jackson by a member of the press that the game against Chattanooga was “different from another conference game”, Jackson politely responded that in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t.

No sir, every conference game is just as important as the next.

I don’t think Jackson anticipated having to explain basic mathematics to a reporter at the Tuesday press conference. His comment was later referred to by the same scribe as a “dreaded cliché”.

That was a remarkably poor description. Jackson’s statement wasn’t a cliché; it was the simple truth, one undoubtedly drilled into the Bulldogs by the coaching staff, but the truth nonetheless. (Incidentally, Mocs quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said almost the exact same thing at UTC’s presser.)

The Citadel’s season won’t end on Saturday. There are still five regular-season games remaining (four in SoCon play) after the Bulldogs play Chattanooga.

A win or loss won’t define the 2016 campaign. It’s just one link in a chain. It’s not to be completely discounted, of course. However, the world won’t end if the Bulldogs lose, and Johnson Hagood Stadium won’t turn into Big Rock Candy Mountain if they win.

I can even provide a relevant example to prove this.

The first time Johnson Hagood Stadium hosted a matchup of Top 10 teams came in 1992. On October 17 of that year, The Citadel played Marshall before a record crowd. Both teams were undefeated in SoCon action entering the contest.

Marshall won the game, so naturally the Southern Conference title that year was won by…uh…uh…uh…

The Citadel.

Sometimes people forget that. They shouldn’t.

As is traditional, nomenclature must be established when discussing Chattanooga. I’ve written before (more than once, to be sure) about the school’s identity/branding issues.

Chattanooga has a webpage on its varsity athletics website devoted to the one question that has bedeviled the school for many years: What is a Moc?

 The term “Moc” is short for “Mockingbird.” Mockingbirds are fiercely territorial creatures which protect their homes with courage, determination and skill…

Named after legendary football coach A.C. “Scrappy” Moore, Scrappy, the Chattanooga mascot, is a fixture for the Mocs.  A re-design in 2008 puts Scrappy in the image of the State Bird of Tennessee, a Mockingbird.  The mockingbird is known as a fierce protector of its nest and environment. It is sometimes seen swooping down on a dog, cat or predator that may be venturing too close to the bird’s protected territory.   Once described by “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon as “a sledge-hammer wielding mockingbird with a heart of Blue & Gold,” Scrappy symbolizes that competitive passion.

Faced with politically sensitive issues and in need of a stronger core identity to help establish a strong brand as Chattanooga’s Team, the athletics department embarked on a comprehensive identity program in 1996. A new direction for the athletics identity was determined, moving away from the politically incorrect Native American Indian imagery.

The “Power C” and the “Cowcatcher logo” are also phrases that apply to branding at Chattanooga. It’s a subject that has even come to the attention of The New York Times.

In this post, I’ll refer to “Chattanooga”, “UTC”, and “Mocs” when discussing its football program.

The most memorable game played between Chattanooga and The Citadel at Johnson Hagood Stadium was probably the 1988 contest, won by the Bulldogs 23-17. As the clock wound down, UTC had a first-and-goal from the three-yard line, with a chance to win the game with a TD and subsequent PAT. However, a big defensive stand by the Bulldogs (featuring key plays by Rob Brodsky, Matt Larkin, and Terrance Young) preserved the victory.

The Citadel had won two consecutive games before that matchup with UTC; it would eventually win seven straight games that season and make the I-AA playoffs for the first time.

How far has Chattanooga come under Russ Huesman? I wrote this in 2008:

You know it’s been a bad season [for Chattanooga] when the beat writer for the local paper notes that “punter Jeff Lloyd, who lost his starting job for three games, may be the Mocs’ most productive player.”

Later in the column he writes that Lloyd has been effective “when he has been able to get a punt off.”

UTC’s struggles have presented an opportunity for assorted anti-football advocates to step forward and call for the program’s elimination. The loudest of these voices is a computer science professor at UTC named Joe Dumas.  From the link:

“This is a perfect time for UTC to get out of the football business for good and concentrate on academics while maintaining successful athletic programs like basketball, golf, tennis, etc.”

Eight years later, Chattanooga has won outright or shared the last three SoCon titles. This season, the Mocs are 6-0 and ranked third in the nation in the FCS Coaches’ poll.

UTC began its 2016 campaign by annihilating Division II Shorter University, 66-0. The following week, the Mocs beat Presbyterian 34-0.

Two games, a combined score of 100-0. Nice start.

Chattanooga has since played four Southern Conference games, winning all four. Only the first of those, a 21-14 win at Furman, was close (though even in that game, UTC led 21-0 before the Paladins made a belated fourth-quarter charge).

A very good Samford team was pushed aside 44-21, with UTC storming out to another 21-0 lead and never looking back. East Tennessee State was then mauled, 37-7 (one of two road games the Mocs have played so far this season).

Last week, Chattanooga led Mercer 38-3 at halftime and 52-10 in the third quarter before settling for a 52-31 victory. That would be the same Mercer team The Citadel beat by one point in the season opener.

UTC has yet to trail in a game this season, outscoring its opponents 148-10 in the first half.

Many of Chattanooga’s relevant statistics are eye-popping.

UTC Opp
Points Per Game 41.8 12.2
Pts Off Turnovers 59 7
Rushing yardage 1384 430
Rushing Attempts 270 185
Yds/rush 5.1 2.3
TDs Rushing 18 6
Passing yardage 1287 936
Comp-Att-Int 93-139-4 97-170-5
Average Per Pass 9.3 5.5
TDs Passing 15 4
Total Off. Plays 409 355
Average yds/play 6.5 3.8
Average yds/game 445.2 227.7
Fumbles/lost 8/2 12/6
Penalties-yards 37-358 33-331
Average/game 59.7 55.2
TOP/game 34:09:00 25:51:00
3rd-down conv. 27/74 18/82
3rd-down conv. rate 36% 22%
Sacks by-yards 16-122 5-43
Red Zone TD rate (21-28) 75% (8-10) 80%

Among other things:

  • The Mocs lead the nation in scoring defense, total defense, yards allowed per play, and defensive 3rd-down conversion rate
  • UTC is third in the nation in rushing defense, and fourth in the country in yards allowed per rush
  • The Mocs are sixth nationally in yards allowed per pass attempt
  • Chattanooga has only been sacked five times, while throwing 139 passes. Meanwhile, its opponents have been sacked 16 times while throwing 170 passes.
  • UTC has a pass completion rate of 67% and is seventh nationally in offensive pass efficiency
  • Chattanooga is also seventh nationally in scoring offense
  • UTC is tenth nationally in time of possession per game (Wofford leads the nation in that category; The Citadel is second)

Now, to be fair, The Citadel has some nice statistics of its own:

  • The Bulldogs are 12th nationally in offensive third-down conversion rate
  • The Citadel is tied for 6th in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, and 12th in turnover margin
  • The Bulldogs lead the nation in rushing offense, and are 6th in the country in yards per rush
  • The Citadel has not allowed a sack all season, the only FCS team that can make that claim
  • The Bulldogs are one of two FCS teams not to allow a successful fourth down conversion so far this season (Sacred Heart is the other). Admittedly, The Citadel’s opponents have only gone for it on 4th down on three occasions.

“We won’t be able to trick ’em.”

– Russ Huesman, describing his offense versus The Citadel’s defense at his press conference on Tuesday.

Of course, this is the same coach who called a trick play for a TD on the first play from scrimmage in last year’s game…

When Russ Huesman’s son, Jacob, finally exhausted his eligibility, there was some question as to whether or not UTC would regress offensively in 2016 with a new starting quarterback. The answer: nope.

That’s partly because the Mocs brought back most of their other offensive starters, but mainly because Alejandro Bennifield (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has seamlessly stepped in as UTC’s signal-caller.

Bennifield (who was involved in the aforementioned trick play) is completing 66.7% of his passes, averaging 9.3 yards per attempt, with fifteen TD tosses against only four interceptions. The junior from Lovejoy, Georgia, is fourth nationally in offensive pass efficiency.

Derrick Craine (5’10”, 205 lbs.) is a senior running back who was a first-team All-SoCon pick last season after rushing for 1,251 yards. His first career 100-yard performance as a Moc came the last time UTC played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, as he had 135 yards in the 2014 matchup.

UTC has at least four receivers who can make big plays. Xavier Borishade (5’10”, 180 lbs.) already has six touchdown receptions this season. The senior was the recipient of the TD toss from Bennifield on the first play of last year’s game against the Bulldogs.

Another wideout, C.J. Board (6’2″, 180 lbs.), is second on the team in receptions. Board has caught three TD passes in 2016. Last year versus The Citadel, Board had 116 receiving yards on five catches.

It should be noted that while the tight end position is not always a prominent feature of Chattanooga’s passing offense, two different Moc TEs caught touchdown passes last week against Mercer.

Chattanooga’s starting offensive line averages 6’4″, 298 lbs.

The line is led by left guard Corey Levin (6’5″, 305 lbs.), who has won the Jacobs Blocking Award the last two years in the Southern Conference. Jacob Revis (6’3″, 295 lbs.) is the Mocs’ starting center, and a preseason all-conference pick.

[Chattanooga is] expected to practice in full pads [Tuesday] and Thursday as they prepare for the Bulldogs’ rough, rugged triple-option attack.

“Most of the time we just go in shells,” coach Russ Huesman said. “You don’t see it much, but when you play option teams, you get low blocks — legal but low blocks — and we’ve got to practice against them at a great speed or we’ll be on the ground the whole game.

I thought this was an interesting approach to preparing for the triple option.

An even better approach for defending the triple option is to recruit players like Keionta Davis (6’4″, 270 lbs.), a defensive end/blunt instrument who was the preseason Defensive Player of the Year in the SoCon. Davis is a Chattanooga native who led the league in sacks last season with 13 1/2 (including two against The Citadel). He already has five sacks in 2016 (and also blocked a field goal attempt against Furman).

Middle linebacker Nakevion Leslie (5’11”, 225 lbs.) was a first-team All-SoCon choice last year. He currently leads the Mocs in tackles. Leslie had 15 stops versus the Bulldogs in last year’s contest.

Fellow linebacker Dale Warren (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is second on the team in tackles. The junior leads the Mocs in tackles for loss, with eight.

UTC has a talented, experienced secondary. Junior free safety Lucas Webb (6’1″, 205 lbs.) has been a first-team all-league pick the last two seasons. Webb, like Davis and perhaps two other Moc defenders, is a legitimate NFL prospect.

Cedric Nettles (6’0″, 205 lbs.) has also been a first-team All-SoCon choice the last two years. The senior had six tackles against The Citadel last season.

Henrique Ribeiro (6’0″, 220 lbs.) is the only Southern Conference placekicker to have been profiled in USA Today this week. The native of Brazil was first-team all-conference last year. So far this season, Ribeirois 5 for 6 on field goal tries, with a long of 52 yards (interestingly, his only miss was blocked).

Ribeiro was Chattanooga’s starting punter last season as well, and has punted 16 times for the Mocs this season, but is listed as the backup at that position this week. Redshirt freshman Colin Brewer (6’3″, 205 lbs.), who has punted ten times this year, is the projected starter.

Brewer is also the holder for UTC. Emory Norred (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is a junior in his third year as the long snapper.

C.J. Board is Chattanooga’s main punt returner, and he is averaging a stellar 8.9 yards per return. Backup running back Richardre Bagley (5’9″, 180 lbs.) is the primary kick returner for the Mocs.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny with a high of 74 degrees. The low on Saturday night is projected to be 62 degrees. That works for me.

Per one source that deals in such matters, Chattanooga is a 6-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 49.5. That’s the same over/under that was listed for the Bulldogs’ game last week versus North Greenville.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Samford is an 18 1/2-point favorite over VMI; Mercer is a 4 1/2-point favorite against Western Carolina; and Furman (despite being winless) is a 16 1/2-point favorite at East Tennessee State. The Citadel’s next opponent, Wofford, is off this week.

Gardner-Webb is a 16 1/2-point underdog against Coastal Carolina this week in Boiling Springs. North Carolina is a 7-point underdog at Miami.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 9th in FCS. Chattanooga is ranked 4th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 39% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of UTC 28, The Citadel 24.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Samford (12th), Wofford (20th), Mercer (40th), Gardner-Webb (55th), VMI (58th), Furman (62nd), Western Carolina (63rd), East Tennessee State (90th).

Both Samford and Wofford jumped six spots this week. VMI improved by nine positions.

– Next year’s FCS Kickoff Classic will feature Chattanooga, as the Mocs will play Jacksonville State one week before the regular season begins for most of Division I.

This year, that game was between Charleston Southern and North Dakota State. One difference next season is that the contest will be played at a neutral site — Montgomery, Alabama.

– Chattanooga’s roster is largely made up of Tennessee natives, with 49 Mocs hailing from the Volunteer State. Other states represented on UTC’s roster: Georgia (29), Alabama (13), Florida (1), New York (1), and California (1).

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– There were no changes to The Citadel’s two-deep this week. The depth charts for the North Greenville and Chattanooga games are identical.

– On offense, eight Bulldogs have started each of the first five games. Nine players have started every game on defense for The Citadel.

Among active players, Tevin Floyd has the most career starts for The Citadel, with 31 (all consecutive). Offensive linemen Isaiah Pinson and Kyle Weaver have each made 30 straight starts.

After reviewing UTC’s season, it is apparent that The Citadel has a very difficult task on Saturday. The Mocs have no obvious weaknesses, and have mostly shredded their opponents (including whippings of quality teams like Samford and Mercer).

The one slight blip in Chattanooga’s march came at Furman, a contest worthy of further examination. It’s not as much that the game was nominally close (21-14), because the Paladins’ second touchdown didn’t come until 1:01 remained in the fourth quarter.

No, the real story was UTC only scoring 21 points (including just one score in the first half). How did Furman manage that?

The Paladins had a three-minute edge in time of possession. Furman also won the turnover battle 1-0.

Another key stat: Chattanooga was only 2 for 9 on third down conversion attempts, which led to the Mocs only running 53 plays from scrimmage (FU had 65).

Furman’s offense didn’t do much, but its defense kept the Paladins in the game, holding UTC to 288 yards of total offense.

Turnovers and big plays are always critical in deciding football games, and Saturday’s contest at Johnson Hagood Stadium will be no different.

However, based on that Furman game, I might suggest another category worth watching: third down conversions.

The simplest way to slow down UTC’s offense is to keep it off the field. That means the Bulldogs’ offense has to maintain long, time-consuming drives (and convert on third down), while The Citadel’s defense needs stops (especially on third down conversion attempts).

Oh, one other thing: the Bulldogs need to avoid giving up a TD on the first play from scrimmage. That has happened in both of the last two matchups against the Mocs.

Can the Bulldogs pull off the upset? I don’t know, but I’m ready to find out, and in person.

I think that will be true for a lot of people this Saturday.

2016 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel at 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 3:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 1. The game will not be televised.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Pete Yanity providing play-by-play and Will Merritt supplying the analysis.

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

Mike Legg (the “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.

Links of interest:

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Brent Thompson’s 9/27 press conference, including comments from Dominique Allen and Tevin Floyd (video)

Brent Thompson 9/28 radio show (video)

Dominique Allen returns as The Citadel’s starting quarterback

– Allen is back on board

– Allen had his moments in high school, too

– Catamount Football Weekly — previewing the game versus The Citadel (video)

– Mark Speir says the Catamounts were “embarrassed” by loss to ETSU

– Catamounts face long season if they lose to The Citadel

– Radio broadcast open for Saturday’s game (audio)

FCS Coaches’ Poll

This is going to be a somewhat abbreviated (if not erratic) preview, as I mentioned it might be when I reviewed the Gardner-Webb game two weeks ago. That’s because I’ve been out of the country for a week and am just getting back to a semblance of a routine. I’ve tried to provide the typical assortment of links, and my “Odds and Ends” section is in good order, but as for the rest of it…

I’m going to hurriedly make a few points and get this posted. Please excuse the absence of some of the usual statistical comparisons, although trying to incorporate that stuff would have been tricky this week anyway. Last year’s stats aren’t particularly relevant as the calendar hits October, but as Western Carolina and The Citadel have only played three games each in 2016, the current season statistics also have evaluative limitations.

Having said that, here are some Western Carolina stats for 2016, a quick blast. WCU’s three opponents this year: East Carolina (lost 52-7), Gardner-Webb (won 44-14), East Tennessee State (lost 34-31).

 

WCU Opp
Points/game 27.3 33.3
1st downs/game 23.7 25
Yards/rush 4.7 5.5
Yards/pass att 8.6 8.1
Yards/play 6.7 6.5
Plays/game 72.3 77.3
Penalties/game 9.7 5.3
Pen yds/game 74 53.7
TOP/game 26:04:00 33:56:00
3rd dn conv % 39 58.8
Red Zone TD% 64.3 78.6

Putting aside the game versus ECU, let’s take a quick look at the Gardner-Webb and ETSU matchups.

Against G-W (a game played in Cullowhee), Western Carolina’s offense:

  • completed 36 of 43 passes, averaging 9.9 yards per attempt, with 5 TD tosses (two picks)
  • was not sacked on any of those 43 pass attempts
  • averaged 6.1 yards per rush (263 total rush yards), with one TD
  • scored 5 TDs in 8 trips to the Red Zone
  • had 6 TD drives of 62 yards or longer
  • scored touchdowns on its first two possessions
  • had 19 pass completions of ten yards or more; 10 of those came on first down
  • also had 6 rushing plays of ten yards or more

As a comparison, The Citadel’s offense had a total of 13 plays from scrimmage against Gardner-Webb that went for 10+ yards (12 of them were rushes). It should be noted that Western Carolina ran 86 plays from scrimmage against G-W (The Citadel had 73).

Now for the other side of the ball. Against the Runnin’ Bulldogs, the Catamounts’ defense:

  • allowed only 3.4 yards per pass attempt (25 throws)
  • gave up just 4.8 yards per play
  • allowed 5.5 yards per rush (271 total rush yards)
  • after allowing a TD on G-W’s first possession, didn’t give up more than 48 yards on any subsequent drive
  • shut G-W out over its last nine drives

The game versus ETSU (played at Bristol Motor Speedway) didn’t go quite as planned. WCU’s offense:

  • completed 26 of 39 passes, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt, with 2 TDs (no interceptions)
  • was sacked four times
  • averaged just 3.7 yards per rush (100 total rush yards), with 2 TDs
  • was in the Red Zone four times, but only scored one touchdown
  • had 5 drives of 55 yards or longer; 3 resulted in TDs

Then there was the Catamounts’ defense, which:

  • allowed 7.3 yards per pass attempt (37 passes)
  • gave up 5.4 yards per play
  • allowed 4.1 yards per rush (205 total rush yards)
  • gave up 4 TDs and a field goal on ETSU’s last five possessions (all 67 yards or longer)

East Tennessee State picked up 364 yards of total offense on those five drives (the last possession of the first half and the first four of the second), averaging 6.6 yards per play. The Bucs were 13 of 19 on third-down tries, converting nine of their last ten.

Check out this amazing third-quarter drive by East Tennessee State that gave the Bucs the lead for the first time in the game:

  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu24 ETSU drive start at 08:46.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu24 Austin Herink sacked for loss of 8 yards to the ETSU16 (Jake Helms).
  • ETSU 2-18 at Etsu16 PENALTY WCU unsportsmanlike conduct (Daniel Nash) 15 yards to the ETSU31, 1ST DOWN ETSU.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu31 Jajuan Stinson rush for 2 yards to the ETSU33 (Tyler Junius).
  • ETSU 2-8 at Etsu33 D. Monroe rush for 3 yards to the ETSU36 (Tyson Dickson).
  • ETSU 3-5 at Etsu36 PENALTY WCU offside defense (Andrew Mayton) 5 yards to the ETSU41, 1ST DOWN ETSU.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Etsu41 D. Monroe rush for 2 yards to the ETSU43 (Avery Worsham).
  • ETSU 2-8 at Etsu43 Austin Herink pass complete to Vincent Lowe for 7 yards to the 50 yardline (Avery Worsham).
  • ETSU 3-1 at Etsu50 D. Monroe rush for 4 yards to the WCU46, 1ST DOWN ETSU (Jake Helms).
  • ETSU 1-10 at Wcu46 Austin Herink rush for 8 yards to the WCU38 (Fred Payne).
  • ETSU 2-2 at Wcu38 Austin Herink pass incomplete to Hank Black (Trey Morgan).
  • ETSU 3-2 at Wcu38 Jajuan Stinson rush for 3 yards to the WCU35, 1ST DOWN ETSU (Daniel Nash).
  • ETSU 1-10 at Wcu35 Jajuan Stinson rush for loss of 1 yard to the WCU36 (Daniel Nash).
  • ETSU 2-11 at Wcu36 PENALTY WCU personal foul (Daniel Nash) 15 yards to the WCU21, 1ST DOWN ETSU.
  • ETSU 1-10 at Wcu21 Falon Lee rush for no gain to the WCU21 (Ezavian Dunn; Tyson Dickson).
  • ETSU 2-10 at Wcu21 Falon Lee rush for 9 yards to the WCU12 (Keion Crossen).
  • ETSU 3-1 at Wcu12 Falon Lee rush for 5 yards to the WCU7, 1ST DOWN ETSU (Marvin Tillman; Daniel Nash).
  • ETSU 1-G at Wcu07 Falon Lee rush for 3 yards to the WCU4 (Andrew Mayton).
  • ETSU 2-G at Wcu04 Falon Lee rush for 2 yards to the WCU2 (Marvin Tillman).
  • ETSU 3-G at Wcu02 Austin Herink pass complete to Matt Thompson for 2 yards to the WCU0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 01:20.
  • JJ Jerman kick attempt good.

No play from scrimmage during that 16-play, 76-yard drive went for longer than nine yards. ETSU was five-for-five on third-down conversion attempts, and was also bailed out of two 2nd-and-long situations by personal fouls (committed by the same WCU player). Time of possession: 7:26.

That drive aside, the game arguably turned on a play near the end of the first half:

The Cats had a 21-3 lead when it appeared they were going for the kill. [Tyrie] Adams threw a long pass to Spearman Robinson, who gained 43 yards before losing a fumble that ETSU recovered at its 29. The Bucs then drove 71 yards for a touchdown before halftime to begin the comeback.

“Spearman fumbles the ball, and they  get the ball and go on a two-minute drive. Who knows what the ball game would be (if that hadn’t happened),” [WCU head coach Mark] Speir said.

Western Carolina committed 12 penalties in the loss to East Tennessee State. The Catamounts were also flagged 12 times in their 30-point win over Gardner-Webb, so your mileage may vary.

While WCU is essentially a 50-50 run-pass team, much of its yardage (64.8%) comes via the pass. That speaks to a fairly solid transition from longtime quarterback Troy Mitchell to the new starting QB, redshirt freshman Tyrie Adams.

Adams is a 6’2″, 180 lb. native of St. Petersburg, Florida. A track and field star as well (he was the indoor and outdoor SoCon high jump champion in 2016), Adams is completing an impressive 69.3% of his passes, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt, with seven touchdown tosses against three interceptions.

Running back Detrez Newsome (5’10”, 210 lbs.) was the preseason choice for offensive SoCon player of the year after being a first-team all-league selection in 2015. Newsome rushed for 1,109 yards last season and nine touchdowns (and added three more TDs on pass receptions).

Newsome rushed for 121 yards (on only 16 attempts) and a TD last year versus The Citadel. He is also the primary kick returner for the Catamounts.

WCU has several pass-catching candidates (including Newsome). Terryon Robinson (5’11”, 190 lbs.) leads the team in receptions so far this season, with 22. He is not to be confused with redshirt senior Spearman Robinson (6’4″, 215 lbs.), a Greenwood High School product who has seemingly played for the Catamounts since the late 1990s.

Jordan Mathis (5’10”, 200 lbs.) is third on the team in receptions, with 12. C.J. Goodman (5’11”, 185 lbs.) had a career-high seven receptions against The Citadel in 2015.

The Catamounts suffered a blow when preseason first-team All-SoCon tight end Tyler Sexton was lost for the season in August with a knee injury.

Western Carolina’s starting offensive line averages 6’3″, 293 lbs. The largest member of that group is right guard Nathan Dalton (6’7″, 315 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore who was a preseason second-team all-conference pick.

In its last two games, WCU has missed linebacker Daniel Riddle (6’1, 225 lbs.), a preseason first-team all-league pick who had 15 tackles against the Bulldogs last season. The injured Riddle is listed as a backup on the depth chart this week.

Tyson Dickson (6’1″, 220 lbs.) was also a preseason all-SoCon choice at linebacker. In 2014, he had 16 tackles in the Catamounts’ victory over the Bulldogs.

The aptly named Fred Payne (5’10”, 180 lbs.) is a strong safety who had a fine game versus The Citadel last year, making seven tackles and also forcing and recovering a fumble.

Cornerback Trey Morgan (6’0″, 185 lbs.) is a senior who has made 38 starts during his career. As a sophomore, he led the SoCon with six interceptions.

The Catamounts are in good shape when it comes to kickers. Redshirt sophomore Ian Berryman (6’0″, 190 lbs.) was the preseason All-SoCon punter, while Logan Howard (also 6’0″, 190 lbs.) was the second-team preseason pick at placekicker.

Howard’s bio on Western Carolina’s website states that he holds “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer”. The website also notes that Howard hit a career long 46-yard field goal last season.

For the fourth straight season, Chandler Addertion is handling long-snapping duties for the Catamounts. His grandfather, Floyd Wicker, had a brief career in the major leagues with four different National League teams (including the original Expos). Floyd Wicker hit one career home run — off a pitcher named Floyd Weaver.

I was reading Bill Connelly’s excellent preview of the upcoming Louisville-Clemson game when I came across this passage:

Through four games, Clemson has only four gains of 30+ yards. Only four teams have fewer: Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, and Texas State. Two have played only three games. And of those four big gainers [for Clemson], none came via rush…

You can survive without big plays. Navy has for years…Scoring without explosiveness requires consistent execution. Any penalty or loss virtually ends a drive.

A lack of big plays puts a lot of pressure on you to execute in the red zone; you aren’t scoring from 40 yards out, so you have to continue moving as the defense gets more packed in.

Would you care to guess how many gains of 30+ yards The Citadel’s offense has had in its first three games this season? The answer is: five.

One against Mercer (Tyler Renew’s 70-yard run on the Bulldogs’ second play from scrimmage). One against Furman (Josh LeBlanc’s amazing 50-yard reception). Three versus Gardner-Webb (including Dominique Allen’s big 41-yard run on the game-winning drive).

Last year, the Bulldogs had 16 gains of 30 yards or more in seven conference games, averaging slightly more than two such plays per contest in league play. As Connelly points out, if an offense doesn’t get those kind of “explosion” plays on at least a semi-regular basis, it has to be extremely consistent, because a bad play will usually short-circuit a possession.

The Citadel has certainly seen a few possessions end on bad plays this year (mainly drive-killing penalties). Obviously, the Bulldogs need to eliminate the major fouls as much as possible, but they also need more big plays.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Cullowhee, per the National Weather Service: sunny and a high of 75 degrees. It should be a great day for a football game.

Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 4.5-point favorite over Western Carolina. The over/under is 57.5.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 33.5-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Mercer is a 5.5-point favorite at VMI; Samford is a 5.5-point favorite over Wofford; and Furman is a 14.5-point favorite over Kennesaw State.

Gardner-Webb is a 33-point favorite over Benedict this week in Boiling Springs. North Carolina is an 11-point underdog at Florida State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is 13th among FCS teams. Western Carolina is ranked 47th.

Massey projects The Citadel to have an 62% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of 31-27.

Other FCS rankings in Massey of note: Chattanooga (4th), Samford (22nd), Wofford (26th), Furman (44th), Mercer (46th), VMI (53rd), Gardner-Webb (61st), East Tennessee State (85th).

– Western Carolina has 57 players on its squad from North Carolina. Other states represented on the Catamounts’ roster: Georgia (23), South Carolina (8), Tennessee (3), Florida (3), and Connecticut (1).

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47 players), Georgia (23), Florida (9), North Carolina (7), Alabama (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (4), and one each from Louisiana, Maryland, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nevada, and West Virginia.

– Western Carolina has two FBS teams on its schedule, an annual tradition in recent years for the Catamounts. WCU has already played East Carolina this season, and will face South Carolina later in the year.

The Catamounts will have FBS bookends on their 2017 slate, travelling near (UNC in late November) and far (Hawai’i in early September). Western Carolina will also play UNC in 2018, and has scheduled two games against North Carolina State (in 2019 and 2024).

WCU has played at least two FBS opponents every season since 2012, including Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Alabama (twice).

In 2013, Western Carolina played three FBS teams — Middle Tennessee State, Virginia Tech, and Auburn. That year’s schedule for the Catamounts also included two games against schools transitioning to FBS (Appalachian State and Georgia Southern). All five contests were road games; WCU, not surprisingly, lost all five en route to a 2-10 season.

– Triple option oddity, repeat factoid edition: through three games this season, more Bulldogs have caught passes (eight) than had rushing attempts (seven). Against Gardner-Webb, Rod Johnson and Isiaha Smith got their first rushing attempts of the season, with Johnson also catching his first pass reception of the 2016 campaign.

– Saturday’s game is the second of three that The Citadel will play in the state of North Carolina this season, against opponents that compete in three different leagues — the Big South (Gardner-Webb), the SoCon (Western Carolina), and the ACC (North Carolina).

– Western Carolina has won seven straight home games, and eleven of its last twelve. The only loss during that 2014-16 stretch was a big one, admittedly — 51-0 to Chattanooga in 2014.

– There wasn’t a lot of movement on the depth chart over the bye week. One notable addition: Evan McField is now listed as the third B-back. Perhaps he could see action for the first time this year, after he suffered an injury prior to the season opener. Brent Thompson confirmed that McField would be available during his Wednesday radio show.

Which Western Carolina team will The Citadel see on Saturday? The one that dominated Gardner-Webb as the game progressed? Or the one that blew its collective gasket (and the lead, and the game) against ETSU?

My guess would be the former, particularly since the Catamounts were at home for that one, and are at home for this game as well.

Two years ago in Cullowhee, The Citadel committed three turnovers (all in WCU territory), and also had two false-start penalties in fourth-down situations. The defense didn’t fare much better, allowing 9.6 yards per play. It was a rough afternoon all the way around, although the Bulldogs were in the game for much of the contest.

If that happens again on Saturday, there won’t be any opportunity for another fourth-quarter comeback this time, much less a relatively comfortable win.

The Bulldogs have to be sharp coming off their bye week. If they are, they have a chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1992.

Let’s hope they take that chance.

Game Review, 2016: Furman

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

“Notes” column, The Post and Courier

School release

Game story, The Greenville News

“Notes” section, The Greenville News

Video from WCSC-TV, including interviews with Brent Thompson, Dominique Allen, and Jordan Black

Video from WCIV-TV

Game story, The Moultrie News

Short game story, Southern Pigskin

Game video highlights

Josh LeBlanc catch

Box score

Post-game notes

The Citadel 19, Furman 14.

It was not the most elegant of contests. Both offenses had plays they would like to have had back. The special teams weren’t all that special.

Then again, the defenses for both sides had a lot to do with the way the game was played. That, and the hard-fought nature of the matchup (which came as a surprise to no one).

Both teams ran 61 plays. Furman averaged 4.5 yards per play, The Citadel 4.9.

The Bulldogs only averaged 3.5 yards per rush, well under expectations, but the Paladins were even more anemic on the ground, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.

It wasn’t a complete debacle for the offenses. The two teams combined to score five touchdowns on five Red Zone opportunities. The Citadel actually converted on 50% of its third down attempts (8-16).

The Bulldogs would have converted at an even better clip if not for some ill-timed penalties. One wonders if the SoCon office had a word with the officiating crew after The Citadel was only called for one penalty last week.

During the course of the game, the two teams combined for a fumbled kickoff, a muffed punt, three missed field goals, and a botched PAT. Yeesh.

The Citadel led 13-7 at the break, with each side taking advantage of special teams miscues for TDs. The difference over the first thirty minutes was the touchdown scored by Jordan Black to conclude The Citadel’s opening drive, by far the longest sustained possession of the half by either squad.

Furman would eventually take the lead late in the third quarter, driving 67 yards for the score. The key play was an outstanding 31-yard reception by Paladins receiver Andrej Suttles, setting up a first-and-goal on the 1-yard line that was converted into a TD two plays later.

The Citadel’s offense would have three opportunities to regain the lead. The first ended in a missed field goal attempt.

The second, a drive set up by Dee Delaney’s second interception of the game, ended after a 4th-and-1 run by Dominique Allen was ruled short of the line to gain by the officials. It was a very poor spotting decision in the eyes of many observers (including mine).

Brent Thompson tried very hard not to say too much when asked about that after the game:

I certainly thought we got it, and I thought we got it pretty clearly…you just hope that nobody really…changes the outcome of a game because of a decision like that.

The Bulldogs persevered, however, and four plays later Furman had to punt. The ensuing drive would be the decisive one, with the critical play a 29-yard completion from Allen to DeAndre Schoultz on 3rd-and-7 from The Citadel’s 25-yard-line.

Two plays later, Thompson and offensive coordinator Lou Conte dialed up their best play call of the night, a 1st-and-10 pass to Tyler Renew that went for 21 yards. Five rushing plays later, Allen scored what proved to be the winning TD.

Furman’s last chance was snuffed out by a Malik Diggs interception, one of three picks by the Bulldogs.

Random thoughts:

– If you’re an official and you decide to call a taunting penalty on a player for pointing at an opponent, perhaps you should also consider the action that led to the player pointing at the opponent — and penalize that individual as well. Just an idea.

– The Citadel needs to clean up its placekicking mechanics. I’m not necessarily talking about the kicker, but all the elements involved.

– The first-half injury to Furman running back Darius Morehead further exacerbated what appears to be the Paladins’ biggest problem, namely a lack of offensive playmakers.

– Dee Delaney was a preseason first-team All-American, and he had an All-American kind of game against Furman. He had two interceptions (both impressive), two pass breakups, and four tackles.

– Kailik Williams was all over the field (12 tackles), and Noah Dawkins was also a prominent on-field presence (8 tackles).

– The Citadel’s defense had no sacks, but I thought it got decent pressure on the passer for a good portion of the game. Tevin Floyd helped create the first of Dee Delaney’s two interceptions with what was recorded as a “hurry”; another hurry (by Dawkins) led to the second of Delaney’s picks.

– In the “links of interest” section above, I included a link of freshman wide receiver Josh LeBlanc’s first career reception. It was certainly a memorable one. LeBlanc is a native of Houston, Texas.

– Brent Thompson’s answers in his post-game Q-and-A sessions with the media have included some of the more quietly thoughtful, introspective comments you will hear from a coach in that type of setting. He clearly hasn’t been a head coach for long.

– It was the first home game of the season for the folks running the PA. Let’s hope things will improve by the time North Greenville comes to town.

– All things considered, it was a solid crowd for the home opener (particularly given the stadium seating situation). It was by and large a good show, too, on the field and off. That should pay dividends for attendance at home games later in the season.

Next up: a non-conference road game against Gardner-Webb. I’ll have a preview for that one later in the week (maybe by Thursday).

As usual, I took pictures, which can be seen below (most of them are annotated). As is often the case, they are mostly bad.

If you’re wondering about the paucity of action shots (such as they are) for the third and fourth quarters, my camera’s batteries died on me shortly after halftime. Then my cellphone’s battery started a downward spiral of its own late in the game. It was one of those nights.

I’ll trade all that for the victory, however.

Mission for The Citadel’s football program: follow up an outstanding season with another solid campaign

Other football-related posts from recent weeks:

Inside the numbers: The Citadel’s 2015 run/pass tendencies, per-play averages, 4th-down decision-making…and more!

Updating history: Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2015

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

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

In his fall practice preview article, Jeff Hartsell wrote about issues “the Bulldogs must address if they are to post consecutive winning seasons for the first time since The Citadel had three straight from 1990-92”. Some of those things are obvious, like avoiding injuries and, uh, suspensions.

There is something else The Citadel’s football program must overcome, and that is its own history. I want to briefly highlight what has happened in the past. It hasn’t always been pretty.

Going back to the end of World War II, The Citadel has had fifteen seasons in which it won seven or more games in a season. That includes last year’s nine-win campaign.

In the fourteen prior post-war years in which the Bulldogs won 7+ games, the following season often did not go as well. Only five of those fourteen occasions saw the program celebrate a winning season the next year.

It is not altogether surprising that big-win seasons have not always been followed by an over-.500 campaign. There are a lot of factors at hand, including players lost to graduation, injuries, differences in scheduling, coaching changes, and plain old-fashioned luck, to name but a few.

They all add up to what a sabermetrically-inclined observer might call regression to the mean. Still, five out of fourteen is not a good ratio.

[Keep in mind, I’m not talking about following up every winning season. I’m discussing the years in which the Bulldogs won more than six games. There have been other times when The Citadel has had back-to-back winning seasons (just to give one example, the consecutive 6-5 campaigns in 1975 and 1976), but my focus in this post is on those teams that won 7+ games.]

Since 1946, here are the five seasons of 7+ wins in which the Bulldogs enjoyed a winning season the next year:

1st year Record 2nd year Record
1959 8-2 1960 8-2-1
1960 8-2-1 1961 7-3
1980 7-4 1981 7-3-1
1990 7-5 1991 7-4
1991 7-4 1992 11-2

One noticeable thing about this list is its connectivity. Four of the five season duos occurred during the two best periods of modern-era football at The Citadel (and the other, the 1980-81 sequence, was preceded by a 6-5 season in 1979).

Here are the other ten years (post-WWII) in which the Bulldogs won 7+ games:

1st year Record 2nd year Record
1961 7-3 1962 3-7
1969 7-3 1970 5-6
1971 8-3 1972 5-6
1981 7-3-1 1982 5-6
1984 7-4 1985 5-5-1
1988 8-4 1989 5-5-1
1992 11-2 1993 5-6
2007 7-4 2008 4-8
2012 7-4 2013 5-7
2015 9-4 2016 ?

For completeness, here is a list of each occasion prior to World War II where The Citadel had a campaign in which the team won at least two more games than it lost:

1st year Record 2nd year Record
1906 3-0 1907 1-5-1
1908 4-1-1 1909 4-3-1
1911 5-2-2 1912 3-4
1915 5-3 1916 6-1-1
1916 6-1-1 1917 3-3
1923 5-3-1 1924 6-4
1924 6-4 1925 6-4
1925 6-4 1926 7-3
1926 7-3 1927 3-6-1
1928 6-3-1 1929 5-4-1
1937 7-4 1938 6-5
1942* 5-2 1946* 3-5

*The Citadel did not field a football team between 1943-1945

Sustaining success has not been easy at The Citadel. Of course, nothing is easy at The Citadel, so it’s not exactly a shock that consistently winning football games at the school can be kind of tricky.

What about the upcoming season, with a new head coach?

It’s the first time The Citadel has ever had to replace a head football coach following a 7+ win season. Heck, it’s the first time The Citadel has had to replace a head football coach following a winning season of any kind since 1942 (for the record, then-head coach John “Bo” Rowland left to take the job at Oklahoma City University prior to the resumption of football at The Citadel in 1946).

New head coach Brent Thompson and new defensive coordinator Blake Harrell were on the staff that led the Bulldogs to a 9-4 record, a share of the Southern Conference championship, an FCS playoff victory and an upset of SEC foe South Carolina a season ago. Offensive coordinator Lou Conte rejoins the staff after a year away.

With 15 starters back from the 2015 squad, the beginning of the Brent Thompson era — he’s the 25th coach in school history — does not feel like starting over.

“It’s more of a continuation than a new beginning,” said senior linebacker Tevin Floyd. “And that kind of ties in with what we are tying to do this year — keep the momentum going from last year.”

Historically, keeping that momentum going has been difficult. However, there is one interesting note about those past big-win seasons worth mentioning.

Of the five 7+ win years in the post-WWII era that were followed up by over-.500 seasons, all five subsequent winning campaigns resulted in at least seven wins. Three of them matched the win total of the year before, and the title-winning 1992 team upped the prior year’s victory toteboard from seven to eleven.

The only one of the five not to match or exceed the number of wins of the previous season was the 1961 squad — and that team won the Southern Conference championship.

In other words, based on past history (and to be fair, a rather small sample size), there is roughly a two-thirds chance the Bulldogs do not have a winning season in 2016. There is a one-third chance, however, that The Citadel wins at least nine games and/or the SoCon title this year.

I would greatly prefer that smaller section of the speculative statistical pie.

Football season is getting even closer…

Inside the numbers: The Citadel’s 2015 run/pass tendencies, per-play averages, 4th-down decision-making…and more!

A few other football-related posts from recent weeks:

Updating history: Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, 1964-2015

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

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

Also, of course, there are the much-discussed TSA “watch lists” for the upcoming league campaign. See if your favorite SoCon football player (or coach) made one of the lists!

TSA watch lists for the SoCon — Offense
TSA watch lists for the SoCon — Defense
TSA watch lists for the SoCon — Special Teams
TSA watch list for the SoCon — Coach of the Year

For the past two years, I have written about tendencies in playcalling by the then-coach of the Bulldogs, Mike Houston (and his offensive coordinator, Brent Thompson, who of course is now The Citadel’s head coach). I compared what Houston had done while at Lenoir-Rhyne to Kevin Higgins’ last two seasons at The Citadel, along with Houston’s initial season at The Citadel in 2014.

Now I’m going to take a look at what Houston and Thompson did last year at The Citadel, and contrast some of those statistics with those from the 2014 season for the Bulldogs, along with the 2013 campaign under Higgins. I decided not to include 2013 Lenoir-Rhyne stats in my comparison this time, though if anyone wants to see those numbers, they are contained in my previous posts on the subject.

My focus is on down-and-distance run/pass tendencies, fourth-down decision-making, situational punting, and assorted other statistical comparisons. This year, I also took a look at the coin toss (?!), after spotting a trend late last season.

Almost all of the statistics that follow are based on conference play, and only conference play. It’s easier and fairer to compare numbers in that way. Ultimately, The Citadel’s on-field success or failure will be judged on how it does in the SoCon, not against the likes of North Greenville or North Carolina (though beating South Carolina in non-conference action is always a plus).

The conference slates looked like this:

  • The Citadel played seven games in 2015 against SoCon teams. The conference schools competing on the gridiron last year: Western Carolina, Wofford, Samford, Furman, Mercer, VMI, and Chattanooga.
  • The Bulldogs played seven games in 2014 versus SoCon opposition. The teams in the league last year were the same as the 2015 opponents: Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Mercer, Furman, Samford, and VMI.
  • The Citadel played eight games in 2013 against SoCon foes. As a reminder, those opponents were: Wofford, Western Carolina, Furman, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Chattanooga, Samford, and Elon.

Oh, before I forget: this year, I put most of the numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s a bit involved (there are seven different sub-sheets), but if anyone wants to peruse the numbers, go for it. Individual game statistics in various categories are included.

I’m fairly confident in the accuracy of the statistics, though I will admit that averaging the time of possession numbers gave me a bad headache. I may be off by a second or two on the quarterly TOP averages. If so, it’s too bad — no refunds are available.

Some definitions:

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

The first number that will follow each down-and-distance category will be the percentage of time The Citadel ran the ball in that situation in 2015. Next to that, in parenthesis, is the run percentage for The Citadel in 2014, and that will be followed by the Bulldogs’ run percentage for that situation in 2013 (which will be in brackets).

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

– 1st-and-10 (or goal to go): 89.1% (88.9%) [77.1%]

Thus, The Citadel ran the ball on first down 89.1% of the time last year, while the Bulldogs ran the ball in that situation 88.9% of the time in 2014 (basically, there was no difference). The Citadel ran the ball 77.1% of the time on first down during its 2013 campaign.

Overall, the Bulldogs ran the ball 86.5% of the time, after rushing on 84.3% of all offensive plays in 2014.

Here are the rest of the down-and-distance categories (in terms of rush percentage):

– 2nd-and-short: 89.2% (84.0%) [95.8%]
– 2nd-and-medium: 89.8% (90.2%) [87.8%]
– 2nd-and-long: 89.2% (82.2%) [75.0%]
– 3rd-and-short: 93.1% (95.5%) [85.7%]
– 3rd-and-medium: 82.4% (90.3%) [90.9%]
– 3rd-and-long: 66.0% (57.4%) [54.0%]

A caveat to these numbers is that there were a few called pass plays that turned into runs. However, if the result of a play was a sack, that counted as a passing down even if a pass wasn’t thrown. There were four such plays in conference action in 2015 for The Citadel.

When compiling NCAA statistics, lost yardage on sacks counts against rushing totals, which may strike the casual observer as counter-intuitive. The NFL, on the other hand, considers sack yardage as passing yardage lost.

I don’t think there is a lot to be surprised about in those numbers, not for anyone who has watched a Brent Thompson offense over the last few years. It is true that the Bulldogs’ passing percentage on 3rd-and-medium is slightly higher than one might expect, but we’re only talking about three pass attempts on seventeen such down/distance situations; subtract one pass attempt, and the average would have been almost exactly the same as it was the previous two seasons.

There were three games in which the Bulldogs threw the ball a bit more often than normal on third-and-long: Wofford, Furman, and Chattanooga.

The Citadel was 4 for 6 passing versus Wofford on 3rd-and-long for 41 yards, including a 24-yard completion. At Furman, the Bulldogs were 1 for 2 (and also suffered a sack).

However, the one completion on third-and-long against the Paladins was a big one, a 50-yard pass from Dominique Allen to Reggie Williams that set up a TD. It was probably the biggest play of the game.

In the game versus Chattanooga, The Citadel was 2-3 for 20 yards (and a sack) on third-and-long. Trailing throughout the contest undoubtedly had an effect on the play-calling.

Prior to the 2015 season, I wrote:

[In 2014], The Citadel attempted four passes on 2nd-and-short. The first three of them fell incomplete.

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

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

Well, The Citadel attempted four passes on 2nd-and-short in 2015, too. The results? An interception, a 36-yard gainer that led to a touchdown, a 24-yard TD strike, and a 22-yard completion.

Not bad. The pick came in the red zone, though. I guess you can’t have everything.

– The Citadel’s offense in 2013 in SoCon action: 69.6 plays per game, 12.0 possessions per game
– The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon action: 75.4 plays per game, 11.0 possessions per game*
– The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon action: 70.7 plays per game, 11.9 possessions per game**

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

**I don’t count a drive as an actual possession when it consists solely of a defensive TD via a return, or when it is a defensive turnover that ends the half or game (or both, like Tevin Floyd’s pick-six against VMI). I also don’t count a drive as a possession when the offensive team does not attempt to move the ball forward (such as a kneel-down situation). That’s how I interpret the statistic, regardless of how it may be listed in a game summary.

The Citadel had a time of possession edge in SoCon play of almost four and a half minutes (32:13 – 27:47). That was actually slightly less of a TOP edge than the Bulldogs had in 2014 (32:40 – 27:20).

The offense generally took control of the ball, however, as games progressed. Average time of possession for The Citadel, by period: 6:59 (1st quarter), 7:47 (2nd), 8:31 (3rd), 8:56 (4th).

– The Citadel’s offense in 2013 in SoCon action: 5.41 yards per play, including 5.13 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s offense in 2014 in SoCon games: 5.56 yards per play, including 5.35 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s offense in 2015 in SoCon games: 6.09 yards per play, including 5.57 yards per rush and 9.7 (!) yards per pass attempt

The Bulldogs’ offense improved in all three per-play categories listed above for a second consecutive season. Last year, I suggested a benchmark:

I think the goal going forward might be for yards per rush to exceed 5.75, and for yards per pass attempt to exceed 8.0 (or at least 7.5).

Mission accomplished, especially those yards per pass attempt. The Citadel threw 63 passes in seven SoCon games, and gained 609 total yards passing. Three of those tosses were intercepted, which is not a terrible ratio.

How did the yards per play numbers for the defense shake out? Quite nicely, thank you very much:

– The Citadel’s defense in 2013 in SoCon action: 5.47 yards per play, including 4.39 yards per rush and 7.2 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 7.02 yards per play, including 5.69 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt
– The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 5.07 yards per play, including 3.69 yards per rush and 6.7 yards per pass attempt

That will work. After a less-than-stellar 2014 campaign, the defense improved markedly last year. Check out that yards per rush allowed stat — exactly two yards less per play from one year to the next. The defense against the pass was excellent, too.

In 2014, The Citadel allowed more than seven yards per rush in four of seven league contests. In 2015, the Bulldogs allowed fewer than three yards per rush in four of seven conference games. It helped that The Citadel averaged 4.3 tackles for loss (not including sacks) per game in SoCon action.

– The Citadel’s defense in 2013 in SoCon action: 12 sacks, 26 passes defensed in 204 attempts (12.7% PD)
– The Citadel’s defense in 2014 in SoCon action: 8 sacks, 14 passes defensed in 176 pass attempts (8.0% PD)
– The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 20 sacks, 33 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (15.6% PD)

Passes defensed is a statistic that combines pass breakups with interceptions.

After a trying season in 2014, everything worked well for the defense in 2015. I don’t think it is too surprising that the PD numbers improved with an increase in sacks, and the Bulldogs were harassing opposing quarterbacks even when they weren’t sacking them (increasing their “hurries” totals in league play from eleven to seventeen).

Big plays! Big plays! Big plays! Big plays! Big plays!

In seven conference games in 2014, The Citadel’s defense allowed 47 plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more — 21 rushes and 26 pass plays. In 2015, that number dropped to 23, nine rushes and fourteen pass plays.

That’s a huge improvement, obviously. It isn’t exactly a shock that big plays lead to points, either directly or later in the drive. Preventing those long gainers is a key to keeping teams off the scoreboard.

For example, of those 23 big plays allowed by the Bulldogs, 14 led to touchdowns (either on the play itself, or later on the same drive). That’s 60.1% of the time.

That percentage is actually lower than what SoCon opponents allowed against The Citadel’s offense on big plays, however. In league action, the Bulldogs had 30 plays of 20 yards or more on offense last year (19 on the ground, 11 in the air). Twenty of those thirty plays led directly or indirectly to touchdowns (66.7%).

– The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2014: 46.3%
– The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2015: 50.0%

– The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2014: 41.5%
– The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2015: 33.7%

In all games last season, the Bulldogs had an offensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 49.4% (second-best to Chattanooga among SoCon squads), and a defensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 36.5% (which was the best mark among league teams).

The Citadel was 3 for 8 on 4th down in conference play (37.5%). In this case, the percentage may not be as significant a story as are the total attempts. In 2014, the Bulldogs had twenty 4th-down tries in SoCon games, converting twelve (60%).

League opponents were 8 for 13 (61.5%) on 4th down against the Bulldogs last year. It’s definitely a small sample size, but it wouldn’t hurt the defense to knock that percentage down a bit in 2016.

First known football usage of “red zone” in print, per Merriam-Webster: 1983.

First known claim that the red zone does not in fact exist: 2013.

– The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2013: 60.0%
– The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2014: 66.7%
– The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 56.3%

– The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2013: 66.7%
– The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2014: 60.0%
– The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 52.2%

The Bulldogs’ offensive Red Zone TD rate would have been better if you didn’t include the VMI game, in which The Citadel somehow managed to go 0 for 5 in scoring touchdowns once inside the 20-yard line. That was a disappointing performance, though on the bright side Eric Goins got to pad his stats.

I always like to take a brief look at fumbles. There really isn’t much to say about them as far as last year was concerned, other than the defense recovering seven of eight opponent fumbles was against the odds. Usually, recovering fumbles is a 50-50 proposition.

– The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2014: 10 (lost 6)
– The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 12 (lost 8)

– The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2014: 14 (recovered 7)
– The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 8 (recovered 7)

When it comes to the SoCon, there are two things on which you can rely with absolute certitude: 1) The Citadel’s gridiron opponents won’t get called for many penalties, and 2) no one associated with The Citadel will ever make the league’s Hall of Fame.

– Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2014: 37
– Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2015: 42

– Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2014: 22
– Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2015: 29

– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2013, SoCon action: 6 (in eight games)
– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2014, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
– Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2015, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)

In the spreadsheet I linked earlier (and located on sub-sheet 6), I described the scenarios for each of the punts by the Bulldogs in opposing territory during the 2015 season. Of the six, the most questionable was almost certainly the first of two such punts in the Mercer game.

Trailing 10-0, and facing 4th-and-1 on Mercer’s 40-yard line early in the second quarter, Mike Houston elected to punt. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but it worked out. Mercer punted the ball back on the next drive, and The Citadel would eventually regroup and take a halftime lead it barely deserved (well, Isiaha Smith deserved it, at least).

There were also three punts by the Bulldogs on 4th down from midfield in conference play. Two of them were inconsequential, but the third (and last) was a different story. After going for a 4th-and-short on The Citadel’s 40-yard line (and making it), Houston was faced with another decision three plays later.

On 4th and 2 from midfield, trailing 24-14 early in the 4th quarter, he elected to punt. Chattanooga scored on the ensuing possession, essentially wrapping up the victory for the Mocs.

I think the coach probably should have gone for it in that situation, but I’m just a guy with a computer. I do wish the Bulldogs hadn’t burned a timeout before punting, though.

Let’s talk about 4th down…

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

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

On sub-sheet 7 of the aforementioned spreadsheet, I’ve categorized each fourth down situation for The Citadel in conference play.

The Bulldogs punted on 4th down every time they were in the Deep Zone or Back Zone. In the Mid Zone, The Citadel punted ten times on 4th down, and went for it three times.

Two of the three were late in the UTC game, so they were “desperation” attempts. I tend not to focus on those types of fourth down attempts (or “garbage time” tries, either). The other 4th-down attempt in the Mid Zone, however, was early in the second quarter against Samford:

  • With 14:12 remaining in the half and the game tied 7-7, The Citadel faced fourth-and-1 on the Samford 40. Mike Houston elected to go for it, and Dominique Allen kept the ball for a 13-yard gain. The Bulldogs eventually scored on the drive, taking a lead they would not relinquish.

In the Front Zone, there were two punts on 4th down (both somewhat justifiable decisions), and four field goal attempts (two were made, two were missed). Three times, Houston kept the offense on the field on 4th down in this zone. One was a “desperation” attempt. The other two occasions were as follows:

  • On The Citadel’s first drive of the game against Western Carolina, the Bulldogs faced 4th-and-2 on the WCU 22-yard line. It didn’t work out for The Citadel, as Vinny Miller was tackled for a loss of four yards.
  • Midway through the fourth quarter versus Mercer, The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-2 from the Mercer 30-yard line, clinging to a 14-13 lead. Cam Jackson gained seven yards to pick up a first down. Three plays later, the Bulldogs scored a TD.

In the Red Zone, The Citadel faced 4th down eight times. Here is a quick review of all eight situations:

  • Ahead 36-12 midway through the 4th quarter against Wofford, the Bulldogs reached the Terriers’ 6-yard line. On 4th and goal, Eric Goins made a 23-yard field goal. (This is close to a “garbage time” decision, admittedly.)
  • On 4th-and-6 at the Mercer 19-yard line, leading 14-10, The Citadel lined up for a field goal. The snap was botched, and the result of the play was an incomplete pass.
  • Early in the second quarter, with a 4th-and-goal at the VMI 16 (the Bulldogs were pushed back by a holding penalty), Eric Goins converted a 33-yard field goal.
  • With a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter, The Citadel faced fourth-and-goal at the VMI 2-yard line. The Bulldogs went for it, but only gained one yard, turning the ball over on downs.
  • Midway through the third quarter, now leading 20-14, the Bulldogs again had the ball deep in VMI territory. They were unable to punch it in for a TD, though, and on 4th-and-goal from the Keydets’ 3 yard-line, Eric Goins trotted back on to the field to kick another field goal (of 20 yards).
  • On the Bulldogs’ next possession, ahead 23-14, they drove the ball inside the VMI 10-yard line for the umpteenth time, yet still could not get in the end zone. This time, on 4th-and-1 from the VMI 6, Goins made a 23-yarder.
  • Early in the second quarter, trailing 14-0, The Citadel faced 4th-and-2 from the Chattanooga 5-yard line. The Bulldogs went for it, but only picked up one yard.
  • Late in the game versus UTC, with a 4th-and-goal on the Mocs’ 10-yard line, Mike Houston elected to try a field goal. Eric Goins converted the try, bringing the Bulldogs to within two touchdowns (at 31-17).

I was a little surprised when I realized that the Bulldogs did not convert a Red Zone 4th down situation into a touchdown in league play all of last season. Of course, part of that has to do with the lack of opportunities. If you’re scoring touchdowns on 1st or 2nd or 3rd down, then what you do or don’t do on 4th down doesn’t matter as much.

Incidentally, in 2014 The Citadel had five Red Zone 4th down situations in conference action. On only one of those occasions did the Bulldogs convert a 4th down into a first down. That was a big one, though (and a big call to make), as it came in overtime against Furman and led to the eventual game-winning TD.

I am inclined to believe that Mike Houston was slightly more conservative (just slightly) in his 4th-down decision-making in 2015 than he had been the previous season, primarily because he could afford to be. His team was often in the lead, or within a score of being in the lead.

Houston also knew that he had a good, clutch placekicker, and a solid “directional” punter capable of consolidating field position.

Will Vanvick must have shaken his head when great punts in the Samford game went unrewarded (after having the ball downed at the 1- and 2-yard lines, Samford scored touchdowns on the ensuing drives anyway). He’ll always have the punt against South Carolina to remember, though.

Earlier in this post, I wrote that I had spotted a trend involving the coin toss. To be honest, I don’t know if I really spotted it, or if I just read or heard about it somewhere. I have a vague idea that the subject of the coin toss came up during the weekly coach’s radio show hosted by Mike Legg. It could have been a note in a Jeff Hartsell story, too. Alas, I don’t remember.

At any rate, I wanted to elaborate on the decision-making surrounding the coin toss. I’m not talking about whether or not to call “heads” or “tails”, but rather the idea of deferring the option to the second half after winning a coin toss.

Last year, The Citadel won the coin toss five times (four in SoCon play). Each time, the Bulldogs elected to defer, and wound up kicking off to open the game.

The military college also kicked off three times after losing the coin toss, as three of The Citadel’s opponents (Mercer, South Carolina, and Coastal Carolina) elected to receive the opening kickoff.

The Bulldogs did not automatically defer the option in 2014 when they won the toss, actually electing to receive the opening kickoff three out of the five times they won the flip that season. Therefore, it appears the deferral concept was instituted between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

I don’t know if Bill Belichick was the inspiration for deferring the option whenever possible, but there are worse guys to emulate when it comes to on-field strategy. As a story in The New York Times pointed out:

Two recent New England games illustrate the advantages of deferring. On Nov. 2, on a cold and windy afternoon, the Patriots won the toss against the Broncos. The Patriots deferred and got the ball to start the second half. When the Broncos elected to receive to begin the game, the Patriots then chose the end that would guarantee the wind would be at their back in the first and fourth quarters. The Patriots won, 43-21.

Sunday against the Lions, the Patriots again deferred. New England scored 10 points in the final three minutes of the second quarter. The Patriots then got the kickoff to open the third quarter and drove deep into Detroit territory before Brady threw an interception.

In the same article, Herm Edwards noted that if “the possessions go about as you think they’re going to go, then maybe you end up with the ball at the end of the game. At the very least, you have the ball to start the second half. And that’s a critical time of the game.”

That piece was written in late November of 2014, just after the Bulldogs’ season had ended that year. I suppose it’s possible that Mike Houston read the story and altered his approach. The timing could also have been coincidental, of course.

Absent other factors, I think deferring the option is usually the right decision. It gives a team the chance to score to end the first half, and then put more points on the board in the second half before the other team gets the ball. It also prevents the opponent from having that same opportunity.

By the way, The Citadel lost six of seven coin tosses last season on the road. As a general rule, one of the visiting team’s captains calls the toss. The Bulldogs obviously need to work on their “heads” or “tails” coin-toss calling technique.

 —

Whether or not Brent Thompson will stay the course when it comes to deferring the option is an unknown at this point. He will be in a position to put his personal stamp on that, along with such matters as fourth-down decision-making. Those are just two of the many items of interest for the new gridiron boss.

I suspect that things like run/pass tendencies will not radically change, mainly because Thompson himself called the plays the past two years. If there is an adjustment in that area (for example, if The Citadel passes more often), it won’t be due to a change in philosophy, but will instead simply be a function of his personnel, both in terms of talent and experience.

Summer is crawling along, but the season is getting closer…