2019 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. VMI

The Citadel vs. VMI, The Military Classic of The South, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 5, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and televised on four television stations in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Pete Yanity will handle play-by-play, while Jared Singleton provides the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– What does Raleigh Webb have in common with Cris Carter?

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

“Gameday Central” on VMI’s website

– Bobby Ross has multiple perspectives on The Citadel-VMI

Radio interview with VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/2)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (9/30)

The Dogs:  Episode 6

Willie Eubanks is the SoCon Defensive Player of the Month

The Citadel’s soccer team shuts out VMI 2-0

TV stations carrying the football game:

  • WCBD-TV (Charleston)
  • WYCW-TV (Greenville/Spartanburg)
  • WMUB (Macon, GA)
  • WWCW (Roanoke)

It is possible that in one or two cases, the game will be carried on a digital sub-channel of one of the above-mentioned stations, rather than the main channel itself. Be sure to check your local listings if you plan on watching the game on one of those stations.

This is Parents’ Weekend at The Citadel. As always, there will be a lot happening on campus, including the seniors receiving their class rings.

The key Saturday morning activities preceding the football game:

  • 8:30 am – 10:15 am: Open Barracks
  • 8:45 am: Kelly Cup
  • 9:15 am: The Citadel Rifle Legion Performance
  • 9:30 am: Regimental Band Concert
  • 10:15 am: Freshmen Promotion Ceremonies
  • 11:00 am: Parade

Just to add to the crowd, VMI is bringing about 500 Keydets to the game. The stadium will be packed.

It doesn’t hurt that both Clemson and South Carolina are off this week. That has led to a lot of weddings being scheduled for Saturday, but let’s face it — who wants to go to a wedding? Going to a football game is much more fun.

I’m sure the tailgating areas will be stuffed with fans as well. It should be a great scene.

I’ll briefly discuss the Samford game.

That was a tough loss. I’m not sure anything else needs to be said about it, but I’ll type a few more words anyway.

– I was disappointed in the targeting call against Sean-Thomas Faulkner. I think it was erroneously made by the replay official, who must have felt the need to insert himself into the game.

It reminded me, in a vague way, of a call made against The Citadel five years ago, when Carson Smith was ejected early in a home game against Chattanooga for trying to force a fumble. One of the on-field officials decided Smith was trying to punch someone, and tossed him.

Smith would normally have been suspended for the next game, too, but was reinstated after an appeal, as even the SoCon acknowledged the stupidity of the call.

Faulkner won’t get that chance, as there is no appeal process for targeting. He won’t be able to play the first half of this game. That will be a problem for the Bulldogs, one they will have to overcome.

– Brent Thompson made a lot of tough decisions against Samford. Some worked, some didn’t. That’s the nature of the game, especially one that winds up a four-overtime affair.

I actually questioned only two of them, and neither was that simple:

I thought he should have gone for a field goal attempt on The Citadel’s second drive of the game, but (as he noted afterwards) that call worked out, because the defense got a three-and-out and the Bulldogs scored on the ensuing possession.

After The Citadel scored in the first overtime, Thompson elected to kick the PAT rather than go for two and end the game right there. During his coach’s show, he was asked about that scenario, and said he had considered it, but that “the book” said taking the PAT was the proper play, and he essentially agreed with that (as he felt the Bulldogs were still moving the ball fairly well).

There wasn’t a right or wrong answer to the question, to be sure.

Thompson’s adherence to “analytics” has been one of the more fascinating subplots to the season. As someone who is naturally interested in the subject, it has been great to follow. The coach is clearly of an aggressive mindset when it comes to decision-making, and the mathematical approach has seemed to embolden him.

While not every call will work out, maintaining that philosophy will, in the long run, be extremely beneficial.

A very quick look at the national statistical rankings in FCS:

  • The Citadel now has a healthy lead in time of possession, ranking first nationally (at 38:00) and with more than a two-minute edge over second-ranked Yale. VMI ranks 110th out of 124 teams.
  • The Bulldogs are 34th in offensive 3rd down conversion rate; VMI is 55th. Wofford is 16th, while Furman is 20th.
  • As far as defensive 3rd down conversion rate is concerned, The Citadel is 82nd nationally. VMI is a solid 38th and leads the Socon in that category. Somewhat surprisingly, Charleston Southern is 19th.
  • The Citadel has attempted 14 fourth-down conversion attempts this season, tied for 8th-most in FCS. The Bulldogs are tied for 4th in successful conversions (10). VMI is 6 for 12 on 4th down, with the 12 attempts in a tie for 20th-most.
  • The Bulldogs are 66th in pass efficiency defense. The Keydets are 91st.

Tangent: 50 years ago…

October 18, 1969…

The Citadel rolled to a 28-2 victory at VMI. Tony Passander threw three TD passes, all to Mike Davitt, and Bob Duncan rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown. Jim Leber converted four PATs. The Bulldogs picked up 29 first downs and 498 yards of total offense. 

The statistics in the table below are from VMI’s last three games — at East Tennessee State (a 31-24 win in overtime), home against Robert Morris (a 31-21 loss), and home versus Wofford (a 51-36 setback). The Keydets’ first two contests were against Marshall and Mars Hill (and are thus not included because neither was against an FCS team).

Also not in these numbers are the overtime stats for the ETSU game, for reasons of consistency.

Opponents VMI
Rushing Attempts 127 94
Average Per Rush 6.43 5.29
Rushing Touchdowns 8 6
Pass plays 60 163
Average Per Attempt 9.57 5.02
Average Per Completion 17.35 9.62
Passing Touchdowns 5 4
Total offensive plays 187 257
Yards per play 7.43 5.12
Fumbles: Number-Lost 2-2 4-2
Penalties: Number-Yards 19-167 13-112
Net Yards Per Punt (median) 34.7 31.9
Kickoff touchbacks 4 8
Possession Time (average) 31:08 28:52
Seconds per play 29.97 20.22
Third-Down Conversions 15 of 40 (37.5%) 24 of 56 (42.9%)
Fourth-Down Conversions 2 of 4 4 of 10
Red Zone TDs-Opps 7 of 13 8 of 13
Sacks By: Number-Yards 10-57 2-16

Other thoughts on the statistics above, and the three games in general:

– Both East Tennessee State and Wofford averaged 7.1 yards per rush against VMI (taking sacks out of the equation). The Terriers, to no one’s surprise, simply kept running, as 62 of Wofford’s 70 offensive plays from scrimmage were rushes.

The Buccaneers, on the other hand, kept trying to pass for some reason; including overtime, ETSU threw 39 passes, and completed only 18 of them. This determined effort to throw the football against VMI probably cost East Tennessee State the game.

– Robert Morris is not a good team, but VMI managed to lose to the Colonials anyway, which had to be very frustrating for its fan base. Among the problems the Keydets had in that game: a botched PAT and a missed short field goal (apparently neither the fault of the placekicker); an exchange of fumbles on consecutive plays that wound up costing VMI 52 yards in field position; and a pass defense that gave up several big plays (Robert Morris averaged 12.1 yards per pass attempt).

VMI itself only had two offensive plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more against Robert Morris, which strikes me as a surprisingly low total. The Keydets had just three such plays versus East Tennessee State, but had ten last week against Wofford — four on the ground and six through the air.

While the Keydets may operate a bit of a “dink and dunk” offense, VMI has the capability of producing a lot of explosive plays.

– Wofford had two punt returns of 39 and 21 yards. The first of those returns set up a touchdown.

VMI has not been very good on special teams in recent years, and this season does not appear to be much different in that respect. However, the Keydets did block a punt against Robert Morris, the first blocked punt for VMI in five years, when the Keydets blocked one against…The Citadel.

– Against ETSU, VMI executed a neat trick play, a throw back to quarterback Reece Udinski that went for 30 yards. Don’t be surprised to see even more trickery by VMI on Saturday. The Keydets always seem to have a few gadget plays in reserve, ready to spring upon the Bulldogs.

– VMI had a turnover margin of +2 in these three games. For the season, the Keydets have a turnover margin of +7, which ranks 9th-best in FCS. That number was helped considerably by a +4 day against Mars Hill.

The Citadel currently stands at -2, which is tied for 75th nationally.

– The three opponents combined for a Red Zone TD rate of 53.8%. That reminds me of one of the things that has bedeviled The Citadel against the Keydets in the last few seasons.

In the last four games of the series, The Citadel’s offense has entered the red zone 20 times versus VMI. However, the Bulldogs have only scored six touchdowns in those possessions.

That is a rate of just 30%. If The Citadel’s offense doesn’t improve in this area on Saturday, the Bulldogs are probably not going to win.

– Both of VMI’s Southern Conference games have been delayed by lightning. Let us hope that particular streak ends at two.

Tangent: 25 years ago…

November 12, 1994

Travis Jervey ran for a 96-yard TD on The Citadel’s first play from scrimmage as the Bulldogs hammered VMI, 58-14, in Norfolk, Virginia. The Citadel rushed for 506 yards and six touchdowns, including 224 yards and two TDs from Jervey. Terrence Rivers had three touchdown runs, and Bryan Morgan added a 41-yard TD burst. C.J. Haynes threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Chauncey Chappelle. The Bulldogs’ other touchdown came on a 73-yard interception return by Anquan Gist.

VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim on The Citadel’s offense:

“They maintain the ball as well as any team I’ve ever watched. But they also have big-strike [passing] capability.

“That offense…what it forces defenses to do is play man coverage. So they get a lot of one-on-one matchups and they’ve got good receivers that can take advantage of it.”

In a radio interview, Wachenheim also stated that Brent Thompson is “the most patient play-caller I have seen in a long, long time.”

VMI’s “Air Raid” offense is piloted by outstanding junior quarterback Reece Udinski, a 6’4″, 224 lb. native of North Wales, Pennsylvania. For the season, Udinski is completing 59.9% of his passes, averaging 6.11 yards per attempt (sacks not included), with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

That’s right, no picks. Udinski will set a new SoCon record if neither of his first two passes on Saturday are intercepted, as he is just one shy of matching former Elon quarterback Scott Riddle’s record of 218 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. However, Riddle still has a substantial lead in most fights started.

Udinski had some big games last year, including three 400-yard passing efforts. Bulldog fans may recall one of them in particular, as he threw for 447 yards and 5 TDs against The Citadel last season (with 49 completions, the most in a league game in 2018).

VMI tends to throw short passes, but can go downfield on occasion. Udinski is a patient QB who is not afraid to make a simple throw.

He has had help this year from the running game, which wasn’t really the case last season.

Redshirt junior running back Alex Ramsey (6’0″, 225 lbs.) is a big back who is averaging a healthy 5.9 yards per carry. Ramsey had 153 yards rushing against Robert Morris, and then followed that up with a 207-yard performance versus Wofford (with 3 TDs). He can also catch the ball (24 receptions so far this year; 8 catches last season versus the Bulldogs).

Ramsey is one of five Keydets with more than 20 catches. Wideout Javeon Lara (6’2″, 188 lbs.), the lone Texan on the VMI roster, has four TD receptions, including the game-winner against ETSU. Lara was a preseason first-team All-SoCon selection.

Another wide receiver, Leroy Thomas (5’11”, 180 lbs.), leads the team in catches with 27. The freshman from Roanoke had 10 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown last week versus Wofford.

Jakob Herres (6’4″, 211 lbs.), like Lara and Thomas, is averaging over 11 yards per reception. The sophomore from Easton, Pennsylvania had six receptions for 117 yards and a TD last year against The Citadel.

Rohan Martin (5’10”, 181 lbs.) has 25 catches. The senior from Stafford, Virginia is also the primary punt returner for the Keydets.

VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 289 lbs. Sophomore left tackle Marshall Gill (6’4″, 270 lbs.) has been a starter for every game of his career at VMI at that position.

VMI has had a consistent lineup on defense, with ten Keydets starting every game.

Strong safety A.J. Smith (6’2″, 204 lbs.), a junior from Virginia Beach, leads the team in tackles, with 32. Smith also has two interceptions and a forced fumble. He had ten tackles against The Citadel last season.

Redshirt junior linebacker Elliott Brewster (6’2″, 220 lbs.) is tied for second on the team in stops. Brewster is not listed as a starter on the two-deep this week, which I find curious. However, he will surely see a lot of action, especially given his performance against the Bulldogs last season (a team-high 15 tackles).

Cornerback Kaleb Tucker (6’1″, 177 lbs.), a native of Hampton, Virginia, has 31 tackles this year. The senior also has two interceptions, a sack, and a fumble recovery.

Ethan Caselberry (6’4″, 201 lbs.) started ten games at free safety last season for the Keydets. This year, the sophomore from Sparkman, Alabama is starting at outside linebacker. Wherever he plays, he tends to make tackles (including nine last year as a true freshman against The Citadel).

Caselberry’s backup on the depth chart is freshman Aljareek Malry (6’0″, 173 lbs.). Despite not being a starter, the Maryland resident has played enough this year to rank 5th in tackles. Malry also blocked a punt against Robert Morris.

Grant Clemons (6’2″, 199 lbs.) is the Keydets’ placekicker. Clemons is 5 for 11 this season on field goal attempts, with a long of 37 yards. The senior is perfect on PATs (16-16). He also handles kickoffs.

Fellow senior Reed King (5’9″, 168 lbs.) is VMI’s punter (and also holds on placements). King is averaging 43.0 yards per boot, with a long of 60 yards. Seven of his 27 punts have been downed inside the 20-yard line.

Tangent: 5 years ago…

November 22, 2014

Six different Bulldogs scored touchdowns as The Citadel won at VMI, 45-25. Aaron Miller rushed for a one-yard TD and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Alex Glover. Other Bulldogs to score: Tyler Renew, Reggie Williams, Isiaha Smith (134 rushing yards), and Jake Stenson (120 rushing yards). Eric Goins converted all six PATs and added a 30-yard field goal. 

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: a 20% chance of showers, with a high of 79 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 69 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is a 17-point favorite over VMI, with an over/under of 66. That line has not changed since it opened.

Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 4-point favorite at Samford; Western Carolina is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Gardner-Webb; Wofford is a 2-point favorite at East Tennessee State; and Chattanooga is a 1 1/2 point favorite at Mercer.

– Also of note: Elon is a 7-point underdog at New Hampshire, and Charleston Southern is an 11 1/2 point favorite over Savannah State. Towson is off this week.

Georgia Tech is a 10 1/2 point underdog at home versus North Carolina.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 26, with Harvard the favorite over Howard in the first meeting in football ever between those two institutions.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 39th in FCS, while VMI is 94th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 87% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 45, VMI 28.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, James Madison, Montana, and Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Northern Iowa is 10th, Towson 12th, Delaware 16th, Kennesaw State 21st, Idaho 27th, Furman 31st, North Carolina A&T 33rd, Elon 34th, Samford 38th, San Diego 45th, William & Mary 49th, Wofford 55th, Colgate 62nd, Chattanooga 67th, South Carolina State 74th, Campbell 77th, East Tennessee State 82nd, Mercer 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Davidson 95th, Lehigh 99th, Gardner-Webb 103rd, Western Carolina 104th, Robert Morris 115th, Butler 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– VMI’s notable alumni include actor Fred Willard, civil rights activist (and Anglican martyr) Jonathan Daniels, and rugby star Dan Lyle.

– Next season, VMI will play non-conference games against Robert Morris, Virginia, and Princeton. Other future non-league opponents for the Keydets include Davidson, Cornell, Kent State, Wake Forest (in 2022), Bucknell, North Carolina State (2023), Louisville (2024), and Virginia Tech (2026).

– VMI’s roster includes 65 players from Virginia. Other states represented:  North Carolina (6 players), Alabama (5), Pennsylvania (4), Maryland (4), Tennessee (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from California, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

That means 68.4% of VMI’s squad hails from the state of Virginia. While the Old Dominion is certainly not bereft of football talent, the lack of geographic diversity on the team has probably not helped VMI in its recent struggles on the gridiron.

VMI’s class breakdown (per its game notes):

  • Freshmen: 52 (39 “true” freshmen, 13 redshirt freshmen)
  • Sophomores: 14 (five are redshirts)
  • Juniors: 22 (13 are redshirts)
  • Seniors: 8 (two are redshirts)

The two Keydets from the Palmetto State are redshirt freshman defensive back Tim Smith (who attended Nation Ford High School in Rock Hill), and freshman wide receiver Kyser Samuel (from Gray Collegiate Academy in Columbia).

That means there are no VMI players from legendary pigskin power Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. While it is well-known to anyone with a basic awareness of the sport, it bears repeating that VMI cannot hope to return to the summit of the SoCon (or even view its apex in the distance) as long as the football program continues to ignore the amazing abilities of those who have worn the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel is quite similar to last week’s edition. Emeka Nwanze and Logan Billings are both listed as potential starters at B-back (along with the incumbent, Clay Harris).

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-4-1 for games played on October 5, with the tie being the only time the Bulldogs have played VMI on that date (14-14 in 1985). Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1929: The Citadel shut out Oglethorpe, 18-0. The Stormy Petrels had defeated Georgia the week before, but were no match for the Bulldogs. Before 3,000 spectators at the original Johnson Hagood Stadium, Edwin McIntosh, Lindsey Hobbs, and Howard “Red” Whittington all scored touchdowns, with Whittington’s one-yard run set up by a spectacular 50-yard scamper by Julius “Runt” Gray.
  • 1935: Before a home crowd of 2,000 fans, The Citadel dominated Erskine, 18-0 (yes, same score as in 1929). Claude McCredie scored twice for the Bulldogs, with Ed Hall adding a third TD. John Miller and Croswell Croft led the defensive effort; the The News and Courier sub-headline read, “The Seceders lose more than they gain and are worn to frazzle by winners”.
  • 1957: On the road at Davidson, The Citadel ran out as 21-7 victors. Barry Thomas scored two touchdowns for the Cadets. The first TD of the day came on a halfback pass from Billy Hughes to Joe Chefalo. All three PATs were successfully converted by Connie Tuza. There was a near riot at the end of the game, as some Davidson freshmen attempted to steal The Citadel’s “touchdown cannon”. They did not succeed.
  • 1968: The Citadel won at Furman, 31-12. Tony Passander threw three touchdown passes, all to Gene Hightower, and Jay Goolsby rushed for a fourth TD. Jim Gahagan kicked four extra points and added a 41-yard field goal to the tally. The Bulldogs lost four fumbles in the contest, but prevailed anyway.
  • 1991: With 13,811 fans in attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium, The Citadel ran past Western Carolina, 38-13. Jack Douglas rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns, while Erick Little and Cedric Sims each added TDs for the Bulldogs. Rob Avriett kicked a 37-yard field goal and converted all five of his PAT attempts. On defense, Rob Briggs and Detric Cummings both intercepted passes.
  • 2013: In overtime, Thomas Warren’s 35-yard field goal propelled the Bulldogs to a 31-28 victory over Appalachian State. Ben Dupree (136 yards rushing) and Darien Robinson (109 yards) each scored two touchdowns for The Citadel. The winning points in OT came after an interception by Mitchell Jeter stopped the Mountaineers on their drive in the extra session. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium: 13,601.

I am worried about this game. Of course, I am always worried, but for Saturday I have a specific concern — namely, how the team will recover from the physical and mental toil of last week.

That will not be easy, and then the squad has to get ready for a very frisky VMI team that is ready to win this matchup. The Bulldogs have to do that while navigating all the distractions associated with Parents’ Weekend (and there are many).

The Keydets may be more confident about this game than they have been in several years. They ought to be. For one thing, VMI easily could have (and maybe should have) won last year’s contest. More to the point, this year’s team looks improved, with a more diverse offense, and a legitimate star at quarterback.

They aren’t bringing 500 members of their corps down to Charleston just to be sociable. They have expectations.

That said, The Citadel has expectations too. The Bulldogs are still a good team. They can still have an outstanding season. All of their primary goals are still on the table.

Plus, this game matters. This game is important.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake. It is, without debate, the greatest trophy in all of sports.

The Bulldogs must do everything in their power to retain it, and keep it in Charleston, where it rightfully belongs.

2019 Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Samford

The Citadel vs. Samford, to be played at Seibert Stadium in Homewood, Alabama, with kickoff at 3:00 pm ET on September 28, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN+. Curt Bloom will handle play-by-play, while Chad Pilcher supplies the analysis. Brad Gardner will report from the sidelines.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Internet legend Joshua Roides talks physics, finance, flood tides, and football

Will starting quarterback Brandon Rainey be back this week? Signs point to yes

– Game notes from The Citadel and Samford

– SoCon weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Chris Hatcher’s weekly press conference (9/26)

Samford strong safety Nick Barton answers questions at SU’s weekly press conference

– The Chris Hatcher Show (9/25)

Game highlights — Alabama A&M vs. Samford

– Game highlights — Samford vs. Wofford

– Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (9/23)

The Brent Thompson Show (9/25)

The Dogs:  Episode 5 (Charleston Southern)

Game program for Saturday’s contest

This is the now-traditional section where I establish ground rules for writing about The Citadel and Samford, as both teams are nicknamed “Bulldogs”. As to why the powers that be in the Southern Conference did not insist on Samford changing its nickname as a requirement for entry into the league, your guess is as good as mine.

At any rate, in this post, “Bulldogs” refers to The Citadel. The reason for that is simple: I graduated from The Citadel, and this is my blog.

I’ll call Samford “SU”, the “Birmingham Bulldogs”, the “Crimson Bulldogs”, the “Baptist Tigers”, or the “Baptist Bears”.

For those of you reading this who are somehow unfamiliar with the Baptist Tigers/Bears, a quick look at the history of Samford football is in order:

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.

I’ve said this before, but I really don’t understand why the students thought bears wouldn’t eat as much meat as bulldogs. Were Alabama’s bears back then strict vegetarians? I guess we’ll never know.

Ah, the mysteries of early-20th century university life…

Birmingham-Southern, by the way, is a Division III school (which was very briefly in NCAA Division I about 15 years ago) and a former rival of Samford. The two schools played in the first football game ever contested at Legion Field, on November 19, 1927. Samford (then Howard) won, 9-0.

While Legion Field was obviously close to home, in those days the Samford football program liked to travel. During the 1920s, SU played Duquesne in Pittsburgh (at Forbes Field) and North Dakota (in Grand Forks). There were even out-of-country junkets to Cuba (playing the Havana National University). Later, Samford played games in Mexico City against the National University of Mexico (in 1954 and 1963).

Random fact of no relevance whatsoever: Samford’s law school, Cumberland, was actually purchased from Cumberland University of Tennessee in 1961. That doesn’t happen very often; in fact, in terms of moving a law school across state lines, I’m not sure it has ever happened anywhere else.

I am aware of only two other law schools that shifted to different universities (both in-state) — the University of Puget Sound School of Law, which is now part of Seattle University; and the law school at the University of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, which is now affiliated with Quinnipiac University.

As opposed to last week, for this post I won’t go through a lengthy list of FCS statistical categories, or update the status in them for other teams of interest. I’ll update those numbers every two or three weeks, though.

I will mention a few things that could have a significant bearing on this game, however.

– The first is time of possession. Not counting the Ivy League schools (each of which has only played one game so far), The Citadel still leads FCS in time of possession, at 36:58.

Samford is last in the sub-division, at 21:12. I believe the Cadet must maintain that type of advantage on Saturday to have a realistic chance of winning the game.

That said, SU is comfortable not having the ball for long stretches. Against Wofford, Samford only had the pigskin for 19:25, but still came away with a road victory.

– Among non-Ivy FCS squads, Samford is 4th in average yards per punt return. SU has returned 10 punts this season for a total of 201 yards. That 20.1 average is easily the best for any team with double digit returns.

– The Citadel is 9th overall in net punting. Samford, one of the many intercollegiate teams with an Australian punter (5’11”, 165 lb. Melbourne native Bradley Porcellato), is 26th nationally.

– Samford averages the third-fewest penalties per game in FCS. The Citadel is tied for 40th in that category.

– SU is 83rd nationally in rush yards allowed per play. The Citadel is 105th.

– As far as passing yards per attempt allowed is concerned, The Citadel is 92nd. The Baptist Tigers are 54th.

Turnover margin: The Citadel is tied for 99th, while Samford is tied for 117th. Each team has only forced two defensive turnovers so far this season (both of SU’s came last week).

A few select statistics from the last four years of Samford-The Citadel (the period in which Chris Hatcher has been the SU head coach):

Year Score Time of possession 3rd down conversions – The Citadel Big Plays – TC (20+ yards) Big Plays – SU (20+ yards) Yards/Rush – The Citadel
2015 44-25 35:15 6 of 14 5 4 5.9
2016 37-34 OT 38:17 11 for 21 6 3 6.0
2017 14-35 36:52 3 for 13 3 4 3.5
2018 42-27 35:01 9 for 16 6 2 5.9

I might argue the key stat in the table is yards per rush for The Citadel, which is inter-related with third down conversions. That also has an impact on time of possession and big plays. More possession means more plays, and more plays means an increased chance of breaking a long gainer.

In fact, The Citadel has not beaten Samford without averaging at least 5.5 yards per rush since 2010, when it won 13-12. The Cadets only averaged 2.7 yards per rush that afternoon, but prevailed in a defensive struggle. The Citadel scored its first touchdown on a blocked punt (by a noted master of the art, Milford Scott); its other TD was set up by a trick play (a pass by Luke Caldwell to Rickey Anderson that came off of a reverse).

Of note, Bill D’Ottavio has been Samford’s defensive coordinator for the last 13 years (under two different head coaches).

The statistics that follow for Samford are from its last three games. I decided not to include stats from SU’s opener against Youngstown State, because the Crimson Bulldogs started a different quarterback in that contest.

SU lost that game to the Penguins, 45-22. Four turnovers bedeviled Chris Hatcher’s squad, which was also just 2 for 9 on third down conversion attempts.

However, Samford has definitely been a different team (at least offensively) since the insertion of junior Chris Oladokun as the starting QB.

Oladokun, a 6’2″, 195 lb. transfer from South Florida (he started three games for the Bulls last season), began his SU career in the fourth quarter against Youngstown State. The Tampa native completed his first seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown (a 64-yarder on his second throw).

The three games included in the table below:

Samford totals Samford avg. Opponent totals Opponent avg.
Rushing yards 548 182.67 828 276
Rush attempts 103 34.33 157 52.33
Avg. Per Rush 5.32 5.27
Rushing TDs 6 2 8 2.67
Passing yards 876 292.0 571 190.3
Avg./Att. 9.62 6.34
Avg./Comp. 16.8 11.3
TDs 10 3.33 4 1.33
Total yards 1424 474.67 1399 466.33
Total plays 194 64.67 247 82.33
Avg./Play 7.34 5.66
Fumbles – Lost 2-0 3-0
Penalties – Yards 7 for 67 20 for 146
Time of possession
22:07 37:53
3rd Down Conversions 15 of 33 24 of 56
4th Down Conversions 3 of 5 9 of 13
Sacks: Total – Yards 4 for 39 yards 5 for 31 yards

*sack yardage counted in passing statistics

Yes, that 16.8 yards per completion number for Samford is accurate. Oladokun has thrown four passes of 64 yards or more, and has eight other completions of at least 30 yards.

When sack yardage is taken out of his totals, Oladokun is averaging 7.46 yards per rush. Two of his runs have gone for 30 or more yards. He leads the team in rushing yards and TDs (and in passing as well, obviously).

Incidentally, Oladokun (pronounced OLAH-doe-kin, according to Samford’s game notes) was the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week after each of those three games.

For the season, Oladokun is completing 65.6% of his passes, averaging an extremely impressive 10.16 yards per attempt (and that number does include sack yardage against). He has thrown 11 TD passes and been intercepted 4 times.

Not included in that table but worth mentioning: in the three referenced contests, Samford averaged running a play from scrimmage every 21.2 seconds. The Baptist Bears have been progressively faster on offense in each of the last three games — 24.6 seconds per play versus Tennessee Tech, 21.6 seconds per snap against Wofford, and just 18.8 seconds per play versus Alabama A&M.

Also not in the table, but certainly of importance: Samford has scored touchdowns on 10 of 14 times it has been in the Red Zone (this includes all four games).

Offensive players for Samford (besides Oladokun) worth watching:

  • Montrell Washington (5’10”, 170 lbs.): A junior from Canton, Georgia, the wide receiver is averaging 23.6 yards per catch, including an 82-yard TD last week against Alabama A&M. He is also Samford’s primary punt returner, and had a 49-yard runback versus Alabama A&M.
  • Chris Shelling (5’8″, 173 lbs.): Last year against The Citadel, the Lawrenceville, Georgia native had 8 receptions for 82 yards. This season, the senior leads SU in receptions with 15. He had 185 receiving yards, including a 64-yard touchdown, against Tennessee Tech.
  • Robert Adams (6’2″, 190 lbs.): Adams ranks second on the team in receptions this season, with 14. The senior from Montgomery has made one reception of 30+ yards in three of Samford’s four games this year.
  • Nick Nixon (6’6″, 282 lbs.): Samford’s starting left tackle, Nixon was a preseason All-SoCon selection. He is a senior from Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Samford’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’6″, 309 lbs. They are large.

Under Bill D’Ottavio, Samford has traditionally employed a “bear” front against the triple option attack. Given the linemen at his disposal, I suspect the matchup this Saturday will not be any different in that respect.

Defensive stalwarts for SU include:

  • Justin Foster (6’4″, 286 lbs.): A preseason All-SoCon choice, the defensive tackle is a senior from Anniston, Alabama. He could be a key player in the battle between The Citadel’s o-line and Samford’s defensive front.
  • Nelson Jordan (6’2″, 253 lbs.): Another lineman who was a preseason all-league pick, Jordan is a sophomore from Starkville, Mississippi. Although not listed as a starter on Samford’s two-deep, I would expect Jordan to get plenty of reps on Saturday. He had nine tackles (including a sack) versus The Citadel last season.
  • John Staton (6’1″, 215 lbs.): The middle linebacker currently leads Samford in tackles, with 46. Staton is a junior from Atlanta.
  • Nathan East (6’2″, 221 lbs.): A sophomore from McCalla, Alabama, East ranks second on the team in tackles, with 35. He plays alongside Staton as one of SU’s three starting linebackers.
  • Nick Barton (5’10”, 196 lbs.): Barton intercepted a pass last week. The senior strong safety from Brentwood, Tennessee has been credited with 17 tackles this season (tied for sixth on the squad). Barton said at Samford’s weekly presser that Saturday will be “one of the most predictable games we’ll have all year…we know what they’re going to do, and they know what we’re going to do.”
  • Ty Herring (6’2″, 203 lbs.): Herring, a junior from Fernandina, Florida, starts at free safety for the Crimson Bulldogs. He is fourth on the team in tackles. Last week against Alabama A&M, Herring returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown.

Samford’s placekicker is preseason all-conference pick Mitchell Fineran (5’10”, 183 lbs.). The sophomore from Fort Valley, Georgia has yet to miss a kick so far this season, converting all five of his field goal attempts and going 19 for 19 on PATs.

Last season, Fineran was 13 for 17 on field goal tries, with a long of 46 yards. He did not miss an extra point. Fineran is also Samford’s kickoff specialist.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday at Samford, per the National Weather Service: mostly sunny, with a high of 95 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Samford (as of Wednesday evening) is a 2 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 63.

When the line opened on Monday night, Samford was a 4-point favorite.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Furman is a 17-point favorite over East Tennessee State; Wofford is an 11 1/2 point favorite at VMI; Chattanooga is a 6 1/2 point favorite versus Western Carolina; and Mercer is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Mercer.

– Also of note: James Madison is a 13-point favorite at Elon, and Towson is a 35 1/2 point underdog at Florida.

After a week off to recover from its loss to The Citadel, Georgia Tech travels to Temple, with the Yellow Jackets a 5 1/2 point underdog.

Charleston Southern is another team that is getting time to mend after a defeat at the hands of the Bulldogs. The Buccaneers are back in action next week, against Savannah State.

The biggest betting favorite in the FCS ranks is Kennesaw State, a 30 1/2 point favorite over Reinhardt, an NAIA school. Among matches between FCS teams, the biggest spread is 27 1/2, with North Carolina A&T favored over Delaware State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 33rd in FCS (down four spots from last week), while Samford is 43rd.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 46% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Samford 34, The Citadel 31.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week:  North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Princeton, James Madison, Dartmouth.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Towson is 12th, Youngstown State 13th, Kennesaw State 22nd, Jacksonville State 25th, Elon 28th, Furman 29th, North Carolina A&T 34th, William & Mary 42nd, San Diego 48th, Wofford 56th, Chattanooga 63rd, Tennessee Tech 64th, South Carolina State 71st, Mercer 75th, East Tennessee State 78th, Campbell 90th, Charleston Southern 92nd, VMI 93rd, Alabama A&M 96th, Western Carolina 97th, Davidson 107th, Gardner-Webb 108th, Robert Morris 117th, Butler 125th, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Samford’s notable alumni include actor Tony Hale (of Veep and Arrested Development fame, though to be honest I know him best from an episode of Psych); actress and groundbreaking television producer Gail Patrick (who helmed the Perry Mason TV series); and Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper editor/publisher Harold E. Martin.

Martin also had an association with another SoCon school, VMI. He endowed a scholarship there in memory of his son, a student at the military school who was killed in an automobile accident his senior year.

– SU’s roster includes more players from Georgia (43) than Alabama (37). Other states represented: Florida (17 players), Tennessee (9), Mississippi (6), Louisiana (2), and one each from North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri.

As mentioned earlier, punter Bradley Porcellato is from Melbourne, Australia.

No member of Samford’s team is from South Carolina, and thus none can claim to be an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The lack of players from the fabled football factory will unquestionably come back to haunt Chris Hatcher and his cabal of coaches. Why the SU staff would continually ignore the undeniable talent that has worn the famed maroon and orange is simply beyond comprehension.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep includes a few changes from the previous depth chart. Sam Llewellyn is on the two-deep at A-back, while on defense Sean-Thomas Faulkner has been moved to the “Sam” linebacker spot. Destin Mack takes over as the starting strong safety.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 5-5 for games played on September 28. Highlights include:

  • 1912: The Citadel defeated Fort Moultrie (official score: 1-0) after the soldiers forfeited the game in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 13 and a PAT for The Citadel pending. There was a suggestion that the Cadets had scored the tying TD thanks in part to fan interference. I wrote about this contest back in June, including this quote from the game story in the Charleston Evening Post:

[On] Saturday afternoon, at Hampton Park, despite the protests of the police and other officials, it proved a hard matter for bashful spectators to tell whether the enthusiastic rooters or the elevens from The Citadel and Fort Moultrie were playing the game. This deplorable state of affairs was the cause of the boys from the island forfeiting the game with a technical score of 1-0 in favor of the Cadets, in the beginning of the fourth quarter. Practically every spectator present appointed himself a field judge, and proceeded to interfere with the players throughout the game, in the meantime taxing his lungs in an endeavor to announce decisions to the State at large.

  • 1929: The Bulldogs whipped Newberry 59-0, the largest margin of victory for The Citadel in 16 years. There were 2,000 fans in attendance at (original) Johnson Hagood Stadium. A total of 36 players saw action for the victors, which is actually one more player than saw the field for The Citadel two weeks ago against Georgia Tech. Among those scoring touchdowns for the Bulldogs: Tom “Pop” Wilson, Ed McIntosh, Tom Appleby, Dalton Brasington, Cary Metz, and Julius “Runt” Gray (a 140 lb. quarterback; even social media superstar Joshua Roides weighs more than that). The Citadel had 407 total yards of offense, while Newberry finished with just 47 yards from scrimmage.
  • 1946: The first intercollegiate football game in Charleston in almost four years resulted in a 7-6 victory for The Citadel over Presbyterian. The Bulldogs trailed until midway through the fourth quarter, when Charlie Watson scored from one yard out. Bill Henderson’s PAT was true, and a crowd of 6,500 went home happy. The winning touchdown drive was set up by a punt return by Luke Dunfee; in the rematch one year later, Dunfee would return the opening kickoff 98 yards for a TD against the Blue Hose to set up another Bulldogs triumph.
  • 1963: In poor conditions on a very rainy day in North Carolina, The Citadel muddied up Davidson, 28-6. Joe Cannarella completed his first pass as a Bulldog, and it went for a touchdown to Wes Matthews. Other scorers for the Cadets: Converse Chellis, Nick DiLoreto, Dennis Vincent (all with TDs), and Pat Green (four PATs). The defense held Davidson to just five first downs.
  • 1968: The Citadel beat Lehigh, 28-12, behind 142 yards rushing and two touchdowns by Jim McMillan. The Bulldogs also scored on a TD pass from Tony Passander to tight end John Griest. All four PATs were converted by Jim Gahagan. The Bulldogs’ defense forced three turnovers, two fumbles and an interception by Jackie Zorn.

This has been a somewhat odd series in recent years. I don’t know how else to describe it. The Citadel has had a bit of the upper hand in recent meetings, though it has not always been immediately apparent as to why that was the case.

Samford has blown sizable leads in both of the last two games played at Johnson Hagood Stadium. However, any weird karma from having to play in Charleston won’t apply on Saturday, since the game is in Alabama. In the last matchup at Seibert Stadium, SU dominated the first half and coasted from there.

Four years ago, The Citadel whipped Samford so thoroughly that new SU head coach Chris Hatcher felt compelled to turn to a freshman backup quarterback named Devlin Hodges. It proved to be a good move, although a bit too late for that particular encounter.

As for this Saturday’s contest, both teams should be energized after winning their last two games. Both have good wins to look to for inspiration. In Chris Oladokun, Samford has found a potential talisman at quarterback; Brent Thompson has compared him to Tom Flacco. That is not good news for The Citadel.

However, the Cadets have improved on defense every week. The potential return of Brandon Rainey at quarterback should be a shot in the arm for the offense, too, and Rainey helped lead the comeback victory over Samford last year (with 217 rushing yards and a fine passing day as well).

It should be an intriguing game. I hope it is a productive and successful one for The Citadel.

 

Game Review, 2019: Charleston Southern

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo Gallery, The Post and Courier

– WCSC-TV game report (with video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Stats of note:

The Citadel Ch. Southern
Field Position* 35.17 (+9.31) 25.86 (-9.31)
Success Rate* 36.67% 27.94%
Big plays (20+ yards) 1 9
Finishing drives (average points)** 6.5 2.5
Turnovers 1 1
Expected turnovers 0.72 1.82
Possessions* 12 14
Points per possession* 1.83 0.93
Offensive Plays* 60 68
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 3.57 6.00
Yards/pass attempt (including sacks) 13.17 5.22
Yards/play* 4.53 5.59
3rd down conversions* 3 of 13 5 of 15
4th down conversions 1 for 1 0 for 2
Red Zone TD%** 2 for 2 0 for 3
Net punting 37.6 32.0
Time of possession 36:07 23:53
TOP/offensive play 34.40 seconds 21.07 seconds
Penalties 7 for 57 9 for 41
1st down passing 1/2, 54 yards, TD, sack 4/11, 64 yards
3rd and long passing 0/1 4/10, 92 yards
4th down passing 0/0 0/1
1st down yards/play* 5.00 5.54
3rd down average yards to go* 6.69 8.53
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 7 6

*does not include The Citadel’s final drive of game
**does not include Charleston Southern’s last drive of first half

Random musings on the game:

– I’m going to start with the biggest question I had after the game, easily.

Why on earth did The Citadel go for two points after its third TD? I absolutely did not (and do not) understand that move. There is no reason to go for two there.

The percentage play is definitely to kick the PAT. You want to force the other team to (eventually) make a two-point conversion to tie the game. Even if the Bulldogs had been successful, it would still have been a two-score contest.

It could have been a really damaging decision. The safety helped alleviate things in the end, but still.

– The Citadel’s offense wasn’t particularly sharp last night, which perhaps shouldn’t have been all that surprising, given the injury situation. Charleston Southern’s defense definitely deserves credit for holding the Bulldogs at bay through long stretches of the game, but there was a noticeable lack of cohesion on that side of the ball by the Cadets.

Some of that can be attributed to employing a different quarterback, though Brian Murdaugh certainly acquitted himself well in his first career start. He committed no turnovers (indeed, The Citadel’s only TO came on special teams), and made some tough runs. He made a fine pass on the run to Raleigh Webb for a TD.

Ultimately, the Bulldogs have to improve on first down (so they can improve on third down) once conference season rolls around, which happens to be next Saturday.

– The Bulldogs’ offensive success rate was its lowest in four games, though comparable to its numbers against Elon and Georgia Tech.

– The Citadel’s defense was outstanding most of the evening. The Bulldogs gave up too many big plays, but only one of them directly or indirectly resulted in a touchdown. The Citadel allowed its lowest success rate (by far) of the season versus CSU.

Willie Eubanks picked off a pass, the first of the year for The Citadel. Eubanks had an excellent game, with nine tackles (including a sack). Three of his tackles came on the last three offensive plays of the game for CSU, a significant part of a great goal-line stand by the Bulldogs.

Marquise Blount also stood out for the Bulldogs, tying Eubanks for the team lead in tackles, including 2 1/2 tackles for loss.

– Against Samford next week, The Citadel’s D needs to convert at least couple of those near-miss interceptions it had versus CSU into picks.

– Matthew Campbell’s “bobble the ball, then kick it 62 yards and have it downed at the 1-yard line” punt was one of the plays of the game. Massive credit should also go to Ryland Ayers for hustling down to bat the ball away from the goal line.

The next play was the bad snap/safety that gave the Bulldogs a two-score cushion, which they never relinquished. That doesn’t happen if CSU isn’t backed up to its own 1.

– 49 players participated in the game for The Citadel. That matches the total for the Towson contest. There were 48 Bulldogs who saw action versus Elon. Against Georgia Tech (according to the game summary, anyway), just 35 Bulldogs played.

Okay, let’s talk about Autry Denson’s night…

First, he more or less blew off a handshake with Brent Thompson after the game. It was not a great look.

That was followed up with this postgame quote:

We were the better team again tonight, I’ll stand behind that. The frustration is not with my guys, the frustration again is with the things we can’t control.

This is Denson’s first time as a college head coach. He’ll soon learn there are quite a few things he can probably control, including:

  • Playing the wrong guy at quarterback for the better part of three quarters
  • The consecutive dead-ball personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the Red Zone by the Bucs’ defense that helped the Bulldogs score their second touchdown
  • The sequence in the third quarter when Denson spent almost the entirety of the play clock preceding a 4th-and-1 play arguing with the line judge, perhaps one reason why CSU failed to convert that fourth down try
  • The less-than-stellar clock management at the end of the first half, with the Buccaneers leaving a timeout on the board that they could have really used
  • The timeout Denson had to call to (apparently) calm down his team, with the play immediately following the timeout the one that led to the aforementioned back-to-back dead-ball penalties

Also, when your offense only scores one TD, has zero or negative yardage on exactly half of its plays (34 of 68), gives up a safety on a bad snap, throws a pick inside its own 30, averages only 2.5 points per drive inside the 40-yard line, and is stuffed on four out of five plays in which it needed only one yard for a first down and/or touchdown…well, when you add it all up, there is a strong possibility that your squad was not “the better team”.

I didn’t even mention the TD pass CSU allowed on a 1st-and-25 play, or the Bulldogs’ sizable advantages in field position and time of possession.

Additional thoughts:

– The attendance was 9,626, not terrible (in terms of recent trends) but not that good, either, for the only night game of the season. As has been discussed before, Charleston Southern is simply not a big draw for fans of the Bulldogs, and doesn’t bring that many supporters in its own right.

That is just one of many reasons why any kind of home-and-home scenario between the Bulldogs and Buccaneers would be ridiculous, and not in the best interests of The Citadel. It also confirms the idea that these two programs don’t really need to play every year, because this “rivalry” is simply not that big a deal in the Lowcountry, no matter what the administration at Charleston Southern would like people to believe.

In fact, there seemed to be a limited presence of Charleston media at Johnson Hagood Stadium last night. The local newspaper thought so much of the game that it sent its general sports columnist to Clemson to watch 533 different Tigers run up and down the field against Charlotte.

– Speaking of our friends in the fourth estate: enough of the “inner city rivalry” and “crosstown rivalry” descriptions. Setting aside the rivalry argument for a moment, in what galaxy is this series ever an “inner city” or “crosstown” competition?

C’mon.

– I liked the light blue jerseys/pants combo. To be honest, as a certified old fogey, I prefer the light blue jerseys/white pants look for home games. However, the general concept was solid.

Next week, the Bulldogs make the trek to suburban Birmingham to take on another set of Bulldogs, Samford. The preview for that game will be posted later this week.

This week’s pictures include no 4th-quarter shots and very few 3rd-quarter photos, due to cellphone battery issues. The lack of pictures in those periods will hopefully not endanger democracy as we know it.

2019 Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern

The Citadel vs. Charleston Southern, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on September 21, 2019.

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

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

Preview from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Charleston Southern

SoCon weekly release

Big South weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

Preview on Charleston Southern’s website

Jacob Godek is the reigning SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (9/18)

Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (9/16)

The Dogs:  Episode 4 — Georgia Tech

Godek launched “the perfect ball” to clinch victory in Atlanta

My review of The Citadel’s win over Georgia Tech

Highlights of another brand of football: The Citadel soccer team’s 3-2 win over Presbyterian

With Charleston Southern making the trip to Charleston this Saturday, I might as well plug this post I wrote last week about football scheduling at The Citadel. CSU is just one of many programs mentioned.

In the game preview article in The Post and Courier (linked above), the now-traditional push by Charleston Southern to get another home game against The Citadel gets a mention:

Saturday’s game is the second of a four-game deal through 2021 that has all of the games being played at The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium. The schools are working on a new contract that would extend the series into the foreseeable future.

CSU athletic director Jeff Barber said he wants to continue the series but is seeking a deal that includes games at Charleston Southern.

“There is a clear desire on both sides to keep the series going,” Barber said. “It needs to be an equitable situation and that’s where we are right now.”

The only “equitable situation” for The Citadel, however, is that it continues to host any and all games between the two schools at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Playing CSU at Buccaneer Field would not be in the best interests of the military college, for a wide variety of reasons (some of which I mention in my post).

The Citadel is ranked 25th in the STATS FCS poll, which is a media poll. In the AFCA FCS poll (coaches), the Bulldogs are not ranked, receiving the 29th-most votes in that poll this week.

This is Hall of Fame weekend at The Citadel. Congratulations to all the new Hall of Famers, including the three former football players honored: Andre Roberts, James Lee, and Wade St. John.

Here is a quick look at The Citadel in the FCS national rankings, from a statistical perspective. This is a selection of stats that I think are interesting and/or relevant.

There are currently 116 teams in the rankings, as the Ivy League schools are just beginning play this week and two other teams (North Alabama and Merrimack) are not listed in the main statistical report because they are still in “transition” phase to D-1.

Also note that in these statistics, sacks are (unfortunately) part of rushing totals, rather than subtracted from passing yards. As I’ve said many times before, when it comes to rushing/sack stats, the NCAA is wrong and the NFL is right.

Time of possession: The Citadel is 1st (37:15 per game). Wofford is 2nd, followed by Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, and Davidson. Furman is 24th, while Charleston Southern is 53rd.

Samford is last in FCS (19:45 per game).

Yards per play, offense: The Bulldogs are 45th in FCS (4.45). North Dakota State (shocker) leads the nation in yards per play, at 8.06.

Mercer is 6th, and VMI is 12th. Charleston Southern is 87th.

Yards per play, defense: The Citadel is 105th nationally (7.31). Davidson leads FCS in this category, but keep in mind two of the Wildcats’ three opponents so far this season are non-D1 squads.

Kennesaw State is 2nd. Charleston Southern is 113th (8.58), but to be fair that is partly skewed by the Buccaneers’ 72-10 loss to South Carolina. The Gamecocks averaged 11.2 yards per play in that contest.

Rushing yards per play, offense: The Cadets are currently 50th (4.19 per rush). The Citadel is 6th in rushing yards per game, but it is to be expected that the Bulldogs would be among the national leaders in that category, since the offense is so heavily geared to running the football.

Central Connecticut State currently leads FCS in yards per rush, at 7.40. The rest of the top five: Incarnate Word, North Dakota State, Villanova, and Youngstown State.

Kennesaw State is 6th in yards per rush, and also leads the nation in rushing yards per game, so the Owls are both prolific and productive. (The same can be said for Central Connecticut State, North Dakota State, and Youngstown State, all in the top five in rushing yards per game.)

Furman is 9th in yards per rush, and ETSU is 12th. Charleston Southern is 77th in yards per rush (3.47).

It should be noted that two of the Paladins’ three opponents to date have been FBS squads, so that makes Furman’s numbers all the more impressive.

Central Arkansas is last in yards per rush, at 1.16, which is a bit of an eye-opener, since the Bears are 3-0 with a win over an FBS team (Western Kentucky). Some of that can be accounted for with sack yardage, but even if you took out sacks, UCA would only average 2.12 yards per rush.

Rushing yards per play, defense: The Bulldogs are 97th overall (5.83). Davidson leads this category as well. Elon is 19th. The highest-ranked SoCon team is Mercer (27th).

Charleston Southern is next-to-last (9.54), just ahead of Texas Southern. South Carolina averaged 13.0 yards per rush against the Buccaneers.

Passing yards per attempt, offense: The Citadel is 40th (7.69). In terms of total yardage, the Bulldogs are last in passing yards per game, just behind Wofford.

The difference: the Terriers are only averaging 4.41 yards per pass attempt, which is 109th in FCS.

Two option teams, Cal Poly and Kennesaw State, rank 1-2 in yards per pass attempt, but Samford is 3rd (SU’s offense is reasonably efficient when it is actually on the field).

Furman is 34th in yards per pass attempt. ETSU is 41st. Two teams that like to throw the ball, VMI and Charleston Southern, are 92nd and 96th respectively.

Passing yards per attempt, defense: The Citadel is 102nd (9.33). That has to get better if the Bulldogs want to compete for the SoCon title.

Of course, ETSU is second nationally in this category (trailing only North Dakota), yet the Buccaneers managed to lose at home to pass-happy VMI last Saturday. Charleston Southern is 49th overall.

3rd down conversion rate, offense: The Bulldogs are 12th (51.1%). The top five: San Diego, Davidson, North Dakota State, Towson, and Kennesaw State.

Samford is 17th, while Furman is 18th. Charleston Southern is 89th.

3rd down conversion rate, defense: The Citadel is 92nd (46.9%). Illinois State tops the list in this category, followed by Sam Houston State, Hampton, James Madison, and Idaho.

VMI is 6th (!). Charleston Southern is 39th.

Net punting: The Bulldogs are 2nd nationally (43.45). Bucknell is first overall, which is a good thing for the Bison given how often that squad punts (22 in three games).

Furman is 5th, while Samford is 13th. Charleston Southern is 28th (and is tied for 7th nationally in total punts, with 23).

Penalties per game: The Citadel has been whistled for an average of 5 accepted penalties per contest, which is tied for 24th-fewest in FCS with several teams, including Charleston Southern. Holy Cross leads the nation is fewest penalties per game, at 2.5; the teams tied for second include Samford and Presbyterian.

Prairie View A&M is averaging an absurd 14 penalties per contest through three games, worst in the country. The Panthers had 18 penalties in their game versus Texas Southern.

Turnover margin: The Bulldogs are 101st (-1.33 per game). The Citadel has no interceptions and only one recovered fumble on defense through three games. The Bulldogs have to be more opportunistic.

Youngstown State’s turnover margin per game is 3.0, which not surprisingly leads the nation. This is another category VMI is faring well in so far (tied for 3rd with Towson and William & Mary).

Charleston Southern is tied for 92nd.

Samford has no defensive turnovers through three games, which has led to a -2.0 turnover margin average. The only team with a worse average than that in FCS is Marist.

Fourth down conversions and attempts: The Citadel is 6 for 7 on fourth down attempts so far in 2019. The six successful conversions is more than all but five teams in FCS. The seven attempts is tied for 18th-most in the sub-division.

The team with the most fourth down attempts (UC Davis, with 13), is also tied for the most conversions (8). The other two teams with eight conversions, Jacksonville and Tennessee Tech, have attempted 11 and 10 fourth down tries, respectively.

Among teams that have attempted more than two fourth down attempts, The Citadel has the highest success rate (85.7%). Wofford (5 for 6) is right behind the Bulldogs.

Autry Denson was an outstanding running back at Notre Dame. He is still the all-time leading rusher in Fighting Irish history, and his name pops up in the career top 10 for several other offensive categories (including points scored and all-purpose yardage).

At the time he took the CSU job, he was the running backs coach at his alma mater. When Denson was interviewed for the position with the Buccaneers, Charleston Southern AD Jeff Barber asked the obvious question.

“As a faith-based school we have unique opportunities, and a unique niche,” said [Barber]. When he first spoke with Denson, “I said, ‘I’m just going to get the elephant out of the room: Why would you leave Notre Dame to come to an FCS program?’ He said, ‘Jeff, I serve God, and I feel like God is telling me and my family to be there.’ I’m a guy who believes the same type things.”

Denson has made similar moves before, giving up a comfortable career as a financial advisor before getting into coaching at the high school level, then breaking into the college game with an unpaid position at Bethune-Cookman, all because he believed that was the direction he was supposed to take. Notre Dame’s all-time leading rusher, Denson to outsiders has always been defined by football, even though it’s clear the game doesn’t define him.

“I told our players, don’t be confused: This isn’t a football program, this is an outreach ministry that has an important football component,” Denson said prior to his first spring practice last month. “It is important, because the world speaks in wins and losses. We need that hook to get the message out. But at the end of the day, we’ll win because they know we love them. They’ll play hard for us. The good guys have to win, too.”

Just remember, coach — sometimes the players on the other team are good guys, too…

Other than one year at a Florida high school, Denson has never been a head coach. Barber ultimately decided that didn’t matter.

For Barber, any concerns about hiring a career college position coach were assuaged by a 30-minute conversation with former Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips.

“He did the same thing, he hired a wide receivers coach,” Barber said, referring to Phillips’ elevation of Dabo Swinney to the top job after Tommy Bowden was fired in the middle of the 2008 season. “I asked him for the traits that he saw in Dabo that made him think he could get the job done, and he listed seven or eight different things. I told Terry Don, ‘I think I’ve got that very same guy.’ … So (Denson) checked all the boxes.”

[Lou Holtz, who coached Denson at Notre Dame,] isn’t concerned by Denson’s lack of college coordinator or head coaching experience, either. “I was the same way,” said Holtz, who was defensive backs coach at Ohio State before landing his first head coaching position at William & Mary, the initial step in 249 career victories.

Denson is going to run the Air Raid offense at Charleston Southern. He hired former LaGrange College OC Felton Huggins to install it.

There will be a significant transition from CSU’s traditional option-based attack to the Air Raid, the second week in a row the Bulldogs will play a team making such a move.

Early on, though, the offense has been a little bit more balanced between rushing and passing than might be expected. Denson is presumably adjusting for the personnel he currently has at his disposal, which strikes me as a sensible decision.

Stats of interest for Charleston Southern’s two games this season versus FCS competition (sacks are counted as pass plays, with the yardage charged to passing and not rushing totals):

CSU offense

Plays Yds./play Rush att Rush Yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Fumbles Lost Int 3d conv 3d  att RZ TD conv RZ TD att
@Furman 65 5.80 34 5.94 31 5.65 1 0 5 14 1 2
N.C. A&T 66 4.26 23 2.65 43 5.12 0 2 3 14 2 3
Totals 131 57 74 1 2 8 28 3 5
Average 65.5 5.02 28.5 4.61 37 5.34 0.5 1 28.6%

CSU defense

Plays Yds./play Rush att Rush Yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Fumbles Lost Int 3d conv 3d  att RZ TD conv RZ TD att
@Furman 63 8.08 39 9.61 24 5.58 0 0 6 12 4 4
N.C. A&T 72 6.49 39 7.82 33 4.91 1 0 2 13 0 2
Totals 135 78 57 1 0 8 25 4 6
Average 67.5 7.23 39 8.72 28.5 5.19 0.5 0 32.0%

Charleston Southern did throw it a lot more last week against North Carolina A&T, but the Buccaneers actually had more runs than pass plays versus Furman. Looking at the numbers, it appears Denson may have been more conservative in his approach to the matchup with the Paladins.

In a way, the game plan versus Furman had some positive results. CSU averaged 4.24 yards on first down, which isn’t great, but the third down yards-to-go average of 5.79 was quite respectable. It didn’t really lead to more third down conversions, though. In the end, Furman won easily, 46-13.

Against North Carolina A&T, the Buccaneers only averaged 3.64 yards on first down, and on third down Charleston Southern had a yards-to-go average of 7.64, which generally isn’t going to get it done.

That said, CSU led the Aggies (a very good FCS program) in the fourth quarter. North Carolina A&T scored 21 points in the final period to pull out a 27-21 victory.

On defense, the Buccaneers have struggled against the run. CSU has given up several long gainers, including three rushes of 40+ yards by Furman and two long TD runs by North Carolina A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin. The second of Martin’s TD runs was a spectacular 76-yard effort with a little over five minutes remaining that gave the Aggies a two-score lead.

CSU also gave up six runs of 35 yards or more against South Carolina.

A few Charleston Southern offensive players to watch:

  • Jack Chambers (5’10”, 170 lbs.): The redshirt sophomore from Lilburn, Georgia has started all three games at quarterback for the Buccaneers. For the season, Chambers is completing 58.5% of his passes, averaging 5.84 yards per attempt (not including sacks), with one touchdown pass against four interceptions. He also has two rushing TDs.
  • Ross Malmgren (6’3″, 210 lbs.): A freshman, Malmgren is from the same town (Acworth, Georgia) as Brandon Rainey and Brandon Webb, but went to a different high school. He has appeared at QB in each of the Buccaneers’ last two games, completing 19 of 24 passes for 122 yards and two TDs.
  • Kameron Brown (6’3″, 220 lbs.): Brown was a preseason All-Big South pick in 2018, but was injured and missed all but three games last year. The redshirt senior went to Midland Valley High School. Against North Carolina A&T, Brown hauled in 9 catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He is a fine player, and could be a difficult matchup for the Bulldogs.
  • Terrence Wilson (5’8″, 200 lbs.): Though not listed as the starter on the CSU two-deep, the junior running back from Leesville is a big-play threat. He had a 52-yard TD run versus Furman in the season opener. Wilson led the Buccaneers in rushing touchdowns last year and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
  • Zack Evans (6’2″, 285 lbs.): The starting left guard was a preseason All-Big South selection this year. Evans, a redshirt senior from Florence and a team captain, started all eleven games for CSU last year, mostly at right guard.

Average size of the projected starters on Charleston Southern’s offensive line: 6’3″, 276 lbs.

Some CSU defensive players of note:

  • Nick Salley (5’10”, 225 lbs.): The senior from Walterboro is a defensive end by trade (he lines up in the “Buc” position for CSU). He had nine tackles against The Citadel last season. Salley began his career as a walkon and is now a team captain.
  • Anton Williams (6’3″, 215 lbs.): The junior from Marianna, Florida did not play in 2018, and also did not participate in the Buccaneers’ first two games this year. However, the defensive end made his season debut last week against North Carolina A&T, finishing with 8 tackles (including 2 1/2 for loss). He was also credited with a pass breakup. Williams is not listed on this week’s two-deep, but make no mistake — he will be a presence on Saturday.
  • J.D. Sosebee (6’0″, 215 lbs.): A redshirt senior linebacker from Gainesville, Georgia, Sosebee was an all-Big South choice in 2018 and is a preseason all-league selection this year. Last week against North Carolina A&T, Sosebee had seven tackles, including a sack.
  • Cody Cline (6’1″, 185 lbs.): A native of Concord, North Carolina, Cline leads the Buccaneers in tackles after three games. The free safety is a true freshman.

Charleston Southern special teams performers include:

  • Kyle Reighard (6’2″, 197 lbs.): Last year, Reighard was a second-team all-conference pick at punter. He is a redshirt senior from Salem, Virginia who also holds on placements.
  • CSU has had three different placekickers this season: Alex Usry (5’10”, 185 lbs), who converted three PATs against North Carolina A&T; Miller Braddock (6’1″, 160 lbs.), who made a field goal and an extra point at South Carolina; and kickoff specialist Nathaniel Toole (5’10”, 170 lbs.), who also kicked PATs at Furman.
  • Ethan Ray (6’0″, 185 lbs.): A redshirt junior from Boiling Springs, Ray was the second-team All-Big South long snapper last season, and the preseason first-team choice this year. (No, the SoCon does not have an all-conference designation for long snappers.)

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service: sunny with a high of 84 degrees. The low temperature on Saturday night is projected to be 70 degrees.

Per one source that deals in such matters (as of Wednesday evening), The Citadel is an 18 1/2 point favorite over Charleston Southern, with an over/under of 53.

When that line opened this week, The Citadel was a 17 1/2 point favorite, and the over/under was 55 1/2.

Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is an 18-point favorite over Gardner-Webb; Furman is a 10-point favorite over Mercer; Samford is a 22-point favorite versus Alabama A&M; VMI is a 14-point favorite over Robert Morris; Chattanooga is a 21 1/2 point underdog versus James Madison; and East Tennessee State is a 4 1/2 point underdog against Austin Peay. Western Carolina is off this week.

– Also of note: Elon is a 27 1/2 point underdog at Wake Forest, while Towson is a 3 1/2 point favorite over Villanova. Georgia Tech is off this week.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 38 1/2, with Princeton favored over Butler.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 29th in FCS, while Charleston Southern is 96th. The win over Georgia Tech vaulted the Bulldogs up 37 spots in the rankings.

Massey projects the Cadets to have a 87% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 35, Charleston Southern 17.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, South Dakota State, Princeton, James Madison, and Eastern Washington.

Other rankings this week of varied interest:  Towson is 8th, Villanova 14th, Delaware 19th, Elon 24th, Jacksonville State 25th, Kennesaw State 28th, North Carolina A&T 31st, William & Mary 33rd, Furman 34th, Samford 51st, Mercer 54th, Holy Cross 56th, Chattanooga 59th, Wofford 60th, Grambling State 69th, South Carolina State 72nd, VMI 77th, East Tennessee State 82nd, Western Carolina 92nd, Campbell 98th, Gardner-Webb 104th, Davidson 107th, Bucknell 118th, Presbyterian 125th, and Robert Morris 126th and last.

– Charleston Southern’s notable alumni include U.S. senator Tim Scott, TV sports reporter Kelsey Riggs, and former major league pitcher R.J. Swindle.

– Charleston Southern’s roster includes 36 players from South Carolina. Other states represented: Florida (19 players), Georgia (16), North Carolina (14), and one each from Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maryland, and Ohio.

The best-educated player on CSU’s squad, without question, is offensive lineman D’Andra Thompson. The 6’3″, 250 lb. junior is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.

Thompson is listed as a backup on the Buccaneers’ two-deep; given the traditional athletic excellence of those who have worn the famed maroon and orange (regardless of sport), it can only be assumed that Autry Denson is waiting for a special moment to unleash Thompson’s talents on an unsuspecting opponent. That may not happen this week, but you never know.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep for The Citadel includes a new B-back listed on the depth chart, freshman Logan Billings. At kick returner, redshirt freshman Jaylan Adams is listed for the first time.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 1-7-1 for games played on September 21, so the Bulldogs need to establish a new winning tradition for that date.

The one victory came in 1996, with The Citadel defeating Western Carolina 28-14 before 10,362 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Bulldogs rushed for 354 yards, with 80 of those coming on a Stanley Myers run just two plays into the contest.

Aaron Green also scored for the Bulldogs, and Lorenzo Jackson intercepted a fourth-quarter pass that essentially sealed the victory, which broke an eight-game conference losing streak. Jackson’s pick (which he returned 58 yards) was one of only two for The Citadel during the entire 1996 season.

This year’s Bulldogs need to intercept a few more passes than that. Right now, though, as mentioned earlier, they don’t have any. Perhaps that will change on Saturday.

I hope that fans of the Bulldogs come out in force for this contest. The team certainly deserves all the support it can muster after a great performance against Georgia Tech.

There was a lot of celebrating and congratulating after that game (on his radio show, Brent Thompson mentioned that he had received 125 text messages, including some from people he didn’t know). However, the team now has to be prepared and ready for this week’s opponent.

I think it will be. I expect the Bulldogs will be focused and alert. They need to be. Charleston Southern will not be an easy opponent.

Last year’s game was decidedly chippy — something noted by Thompson at his Monday presser, and a memory the coach clearly did not enjoy. I hope (and suspect) this year’s contest will be more cleanly played from that perspective.

Offensively, The Citadel needs to keep doing what it did against the Yellow Jackets, and keep the chains moving. I would like to see more big plays, however.

Big plays are what the Bulldogs’ defense needs to avoid. Charleston Southern will try to get its skill position players into space. The Citadel’s defenders must tackle well, and get off the field on third down.

Tackling is also something that the kick return coverage units must improve upon this week. Another thing to watch: in last year’s game, both teams blocked a punt for a TD.

The Bulldogs need to win this game, thus consolidating their victory from last week, and setting up what should be an exciting and challenging conference campaign.

We’re all ready for some fun at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday night.

Game Review, 2019: Georgia Tech

The Citadel 27, Georgia Tech 24 (OT).

That happened. Yes, it did.

Links of interest (a lot of options this week):

Game story, The Post and Courier

School release from The Citadel

School release from Georgia Tech

AP game story

NCAA.com game story

Game story, Atlanta Journal-Constitution [headline over article: “Jackets Haunted and Stunned”]

Game analysis, CBS Sports

“The Citadel Adds To Illustrious History”

– Gwinnett players play role in shocker

Video highlights package from The Citadel

Postgame on-field interview of Brent Thompson (via Fox Sports South twitter)

Game highlights from the ACC Digital Network

– Postgame quotes (including those for Brent Thompson, which are at the bottom of the page)

Postgame press conference for Geoff Collins

– Postgame press conference for Georgia Tech players

“Condensed” video of The Citadel-Georgia Tech (about 23 minutes)

Box score

Key statistics:

The Citadel Georgia Tech
Field Position* 21.56 (-17.69) 39.22 (+17.69)
Success Rate* 39.72% 47.62%
Big plays (20+ yards) 3 6
Finishing drives (average points)* 4.0 4.6
Turnovers 1 0
Expected turnovers 1.72 0.66
Possessions* 9 9
Points per possession* 2.67 2.67
Offensive Plays* 72 42
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 4.76 7.59
Yards/pass attempts* (incl. sacks) 5.20 6.73
Yards/play* 4.79 7.29
3rd down conversions* 8 of 15 (53.3%) 3 of 8 (37.5%)
4th down conversions 1 of 1 0 of 1
Red Zone TD%** 0 for 2 (0%) 1 for 1 (100%)
Net punting 38.0 35.0
Time of possession 41:50 18:10
TOP/offensive play 34.86 seconds 25.95 seconds
Penalties 5 for 55 yards 8 for 80 yards
1st down passing* 0/1 5/7, 97 yards, sack
3rd and long passing* 0/1, interception, sack 0/3, sack
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play* 5.45 9.45
3rd down average yards to go* 7.40 7.25
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 2 3

*overtime stats not included; Georgia Tech’s kneel-down at the end of the first half also not included
** Georgia Tech’s end-of-regulation drive not included in Red Zone TD rate

After I had finished compiling the above stats, I just shook my head. The Citadel finished second-best in all of the “Five Factors”, and did not fare well in many of the other categories.

Yet in actuality, the Bulldogs maintained control of the game throughout the contest. It could also be argued that if Brandon Rainey had not been injured, The Citadel probably would have won in regulation.

That time of possession advantage the Bulldogs had was incredible and ultimately decisive; essentially, the entire game turned on the basic fact that Georgia Tech couldn’t score if it didn’t have the ball — and the Yellow Jackets rarely possessed the pigskin.

A few quick notes:

– Without the 3rd-and-31 situation in the second quarter, The Citadel’s average yards-to-go on 3rd down would be 5.7, a much more palatable number.

– Besides time of possession, the other key stat was third down conversion rate (and of course those two categories are inter-related). When you include the Bulldogs converting their sole fourth down attempt, The Citadel eventually moved the chains 9 out of 15 times it faced third down in regulation play.

I don’t know what The Citadel’s record is for time of possession in a game, but I’m going to guess that 41:50 is the new standard for the Bulldogs’ contests against FBS teams.

– Georgia Tech’s first-half penalties were critical (and mostly inexcusable) mistakes, and also out of character. The Yellow Jackets had only committed four penalties *total* in their first two games.

Random thoughts:

– The Citadel became the first FCS squad this season to beat a team from a “Power Five” conference.

– I am fairly sure The Citadel is the largest underdog (26 points) to win outright so far this year in a game involving at least one FBS team.

– Georgia Tech’s decision to punt on 4th-and-5 at the Bulldogs’ 36-yard line on the Yellow Jackets’ first drive of the game set the tone for the contest, and not in a good way for the home team. That is absolutely a “go for it” situation, particularly in a game in which possessions are going to be limited.

Naturally, the punt was a touchback, and (almost as naturally) The Citadel immediately embarked on a nine-play drive that resulted in the game’s first touchdown.

That drive included two tough third-down runs from Rainey and Clay Harris.

– Conversely, Brent Thompson should receive credit for his decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from The Citadel’s own 34-yard line, with less than six minutes remaining in a tie game and a backup quarterback at the controls.

A punt there would have handed the ball back to a Georgia Tech offense that had the momentum. It was worth the risk, and Thompson wound up with the reward after a two-yard run by Harris.

– The end-around to Raleigh Webb on the next play was also an excellent call that built off of the fourth-down conversion.

– The TD pass from Rainey to Webb was on a 2nd-and-6 down-and-distance situation, and just two plays removed from Nkem Njoku’s 25-yard run into Yellow Jackets territory. It was an excellent time to call a pass play.

– Chris Beverly managed to knock Tobias Oliver out of bounds on his long kick return, and it was a good thing, because I believe otherwise Oliver may have gone all the way.

– Geoff Collins seemed miffed at the officials for how the end of the fourth quarter played out, prior to the pseudo-TD and subsequent tying field goal.

I re-watched it. This is what happened:

  • The clock stopped with 34 seconds remaining after an injury to Bulldogs defensive tackle Dewey Greene IV (who had a huge sack two plays earlier).
  • Georgia Tech running back Jordan Mason then rushed 18 yards to The Citadel’s 12-yard line for a first down. The clock was halted with 27 seconds left to move the chains.
  • The clock re-started, and then with 23 seconds left Georgia Tech was called for a snap infraction, penalizing the Yellow Jackets five yards.
  • That necessitated a 10-second runoff, to 13 seconds. The referee announced that information, and then stated the clock would re-start on the “ready to play” signal — which it did.
  • Collins then called a timeout just before the ball was snapped, at the 6-second mark.

I think Collins was upset because he did not think the clock would re-start at the 13-second mark. That isn’t what the referee said, however.

As a result, the Yellow Jackets went from having the football at the 12-yard line with 23 seconds left and one timeout, to having it at the 17-yard line with 6 seconds left and no timeouts — and they didn’t even run a play.

Georgia Tech had used a timeout very early in the 3rd quarter when there was confusion over an offensive formation on the second play of the half. The Yellow Jackets could have used that timeout at the end of the game.

– I was always relieved when Tobias Oliver wasn’t playing quarterback for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets seemed more dynamic whenever he was in the game, including as a kick returner. The stats reflect that as well.

I don’t think the flip-flopping of the QBs helped Georgia Tech much, including in the overtime session, when Lucas Jackson came in at quarterback on 3rd down and promptly got sacked by Joseph Randolph II.

– On the positive side of the ledger for Collins, his hat was nice — very clean look. I also liked the cap he wore for a game earlier this season that just had the “T” logo.

– With 1:13 remaining in the game and Georgia Tech driving, a chant of “DEFENSE!” from the crowd could clearly be heard on the TV audio feed. Major props to the fans (and cadets) in attendance.

– It was a rough-and-tumble football game, with more than a few injuries for both teams. I hope that the Bulldogs came out of it without any serious issues. Obviously, the injury to Brandon Rainey will be something to watch.

Just a few tweets to consider (I could have linked several thousand)…

 

Now the players and coaches have to forget about this victory, great as it was, and get ready for Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers led a good North Carolina A&T team in the fourth quarter on Saturday before losing 27-21. That one won’t be easy.

I’ll write about that game later this week.

Putting together the ideal football schedule at The Citadel

I wanted to write about this topic after some recent discourse about it, primarily in two places:

– AD Mike Capaccio’s discussion of the schedule on Lowcountry media personality Quintin Washington’s YouTube channel

– Jeff Hartsell’s column in The Post and Courier

Here are some of the relevant passages from each media piece.

Capaccio (direct quotes):

“We need to work with our schedule to be more realistic….we don’t need to be playing two ranked teams, or three ranked teams, and then an ACC team, and then go into our conference, because our conference is a monster…so, not that we [want] an easy schedule, but we need a little break…

…We want to play close to home…three to five hours [away] at the maximum…We don’t need to be taking a trip to Towson…Our philosophy is changing, and we want to play close [to home].”

Hartsell:

By the end of the 2020 season, The Citadel will have played 44 straight games against D-I teams…

…”Do you need a Division II team in there? Every couple of years, I think you do,” said [The Citadel’s head football coach, Brent] Thompson, whose 10-2 SoCon championship team in 2016 won a 38-14 game over D-II North Greenville. “But I don’t think you need one every year. I know just about everybody in our league will have one this season.

“But my emphasis is on more in-region games. Elon is a fine game, Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, S.C. State. Those games are a lot easier on your travel and your budget, and they mean more to the kids. I would much rather play a non-conference game in-state, or at least in-region.”

For Thompson, a guarantee game last season might have made the difference between a 5-6 season and a 6-5 season. And as any coach will tell you, that’s a big difference.

Coaches from Dabo Swinney to Nick Saban know that an occasional cupcake tastes good. The Citadel ought to try one.

Let me start off by saying that I am not overly fond of the epithet “cupcake” being thrown around when mentioning a squad from a lower classification or division. Playoff-caliber D-2 teams like Newberry and North Greenville certainly weren’t “cupcakes” when they played the Bulldogs. The term also doesn’t apply to The Citadel when it faces an FBS opponent.

Calling a team a “cupcake” is basically a way of saying it doesn’t belong on the same field with the favored opponent. I find this tiresome, as it is primarily a media creation designed to diminish programs that aren’t on national TV every week.

Now, as to The Citadel’s football schedule…

Right now, the Bulldogs play 11 regular-season games every season except in years where the calendar allows for a 12th contest. After this year, the next time FCS teams will have a chance to play a 12th game will be 2024.

I don’t believe there will be a rule change altering the current status quo in that regard, so let’s assume that The Citadel will annually play 11 regular-season games for the foreseeable future.

The Bulldogs will play eight Southern Conference games every year, four at home and four on the road. That leaves three non-conference contests to schedule.

One of those non-conference matchups has to be a “money” game against an FBS opponent. Here are the already scheduled FBS teams through 2025:

  • 2020: Clemson
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina
  • 2022: Appalachian State
  • 2023: Georgia Southern
  • 2024: Clemson
  • 2025: Mississippi

Of the two remaining out-of-league games, at least one of them almost has to be a home game; otherwise, the Bulldogs would only play four contests in a given season at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That isn’t going to work.

So far, these non-FBS games have been scheduled through the next few seasons:

  • 2020: Elon, Charleston Southern [schedule complete; six home games]
  • 2021: Charleston Southern
  • 2022: at Campbell
  • 2023: Campbell

Mike Capaccio also mentioned during the interview referenced above that Presbyterian is on a future schedule. Perhaps the Blue Hose are on more than one.

What, exactly, should be the goals of The Citadel’s non-conference football schedule? Some of them (in no particular order) might be:

  • Help the team prepare for the SoCon slate
  • Raise money for the program (and the department of athletics in general)
  • Promote the school to a wider audience
  • Give the team a better chance of making the FCS playoffs
  • Improve the win-loss record
  • Ensure there are enough home games to satisfy the season-ticket holders
  • Energize the fans by playing quality, high-profile opponents
  • Save money on travel
  • Excite the players on the team by playing quality, high-profile opponents
  • Provide an added impetus for recruiting

Random musings:

– I am okay with giving the team a better chance to make the FCS playoffs via scheduling, but only to a point.

That is because the FCS postseason, as currently constructed, is hopelessly flawed. It is structurally biased against southeastern schools (honestly, that is undeniable). Thus, it is not a true “national” tournament.

I see no reason to devalue the regular season just to participate in the playoffs. Until the tournament is fully seeded and not beholden to asinine geographical bracketing, my thoughts on that will not change.

– I’ve already mentioned that The Citadel needs to play at least five home games per season. I don’t think anyone would seriously disagree.

– While I’ve said it before, let me reiterate that limiting the distance the team travels for non-conference games is not always a good idea, at least from a larger perspective. I enjoyed the trip to Princeton in 2009, and I firmly believe the Bulldogs should occasionally make trips like that to promote the school, provide a new experience for the players, and reward our loyal fans from other parts of the country.

– I don’t want to play opponents for the sole purpose of padding the win total. That isn’t what The Citadel is all about. If it were, the school wouldn’t have joined the Southern Conference in the first place, much less stay in the league all these years.

The Citadel is about embracing challenges. That includes varsity sports.

Finally, my suggestions for non-conference games.

I am inclined to eschew D-2 and NAIA schools, because I think it is probably beneficial to the conference as a whole for its member schools to play as many D-1 teams as possible, and The Citadel should take the initiative in that respect.

I could see arguments in the other direction — and I’m not automatically opposed to teams like Newberry, North Greenville, or Benedict. I don’t believe Webber International needs to be on the schedule again, however.

– Presbyterian strikes me as almost an ideal non-conference opponent. The Citadel would not have play in Clinton (barring a hurricane, of course). The two schools have a long history on the gridiron, too.

– Charleston Southern is a reasonable choice, though I don’t think it is necessary (or particularly desirable) to play the Buccaneers on an annual basis.

Obviously, any games between CSU and The Citadel would be contested at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Playing at Buccaneer Field is a non-starter for a host of reasons, including A) the state of the facility, B) the fact that 80% (or more) of the fans at the game would be rooting for The Citadel, so forcing them to travel to another stadium would be pointless, and C) the loss of a home game would seriously affect The Citadel’s ability to schedule the rest of its non-conference slate in a given season.

That last point is one that several members of the local media have never seemed able to grasp — or are simply unwilling to accept, even knowing it is true.

A rotation of Charleston Southern and Presbyterian might not be a bad idea.

– Other teams that I think would be good opponents in the “home games only” slot: Jacksonville, Stetson, Davidson, and perhaps Gardner-Webb.

– Schools that would be appropriate “home and home” regional opponents would include South Carolina State, Elon, William & Mary, Richmond, Campbell, and possibly North Carolina A&T.

– I would advocate for an occasional home-and-home versus an out-of-region team, like an Ivy or Patriot League squad, or even one of the MVFC teams.

Yes, I know, it costs too much. I’m sure we could raise some money for a two-game series through a special campaign, though. I noticed that there are currently 38 people listed in The Citadel Development Foundation’s staff directory; perhaps one or two of them could help out.

All of the above is just my opinion. I could be wrong about just about everything!

Or maybe I could be right about a few things. Your mileage may vary.

2019 Football, Game 3: The Citadel vs. Georgia Tech

The Citadel vs. Georgia Tech, from Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in Atlanta, Georgia, with kickoff at 12:30 pm ET on September 14, 2019. 

The game will be televised on the ACC Regional Network and on ESPN College Extra. It will be streamed on Fox Sports Go and ACC Network Extra. Tom Werme will handle play-by-play, while James Bates supplies the analysis. Lyndsay Rowley is the sideline reporter.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Check your local listings for TV information. The game will be televised on various regional networks — Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Midwest, etc. It will also be streamed; depending on where you live, you can stream it on Fox Sports Go or ACC Network Extra.

It will also be part of the “ESPN College Extra” package, which is available on some cable/satellite systems.

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

Preview from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Bulldogs tight end Elijah Lowe, a native of the Bahamas, talks about the devastation from Hurricane Dorian and how it has affected his family

– Game notes from The Citadel and Georgia Tech

– SoCon weekly release

ACC weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Georgia Tech’s website

Brent Thompson’s 9/9 press conference

The Brent Thompson Show (9/11)

– The Dogs:  Episode 3

Geoff Collins’ 9/10 press conference

Press conference: Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker (9/10)

Press conference: Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude (9/10)

South Florida vs. Georgia Tech (condensed game)

Sean-Thomas Faulkner is the reigning SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week

This preview is a little different from most of my other writeups, in that it will not include much in the way of statistics. There are a few reasons for that:

  • I’ve already covered a lot of The Citadel’s relevant stats in my two game reviews so far this season
  • This is an FBS vs. FCS game, which usually doesn’t lend itself well to statistical comparisons
  • Georgia Tech has a new coaching staff with a completely new offense, as you may have heard
  • So far this season, the Yellow Jackets have played #1 Clemson and a South Florida team that now has an 8-game losing streak dating back to last year
  • Two games of stats under a new coaching staff would make it hard to evaluate even if Georgia Tech hadn’t played a dominant team and another squad that is in a major downward spiral

The Citadel’s forward passing was the best that I have seen in any game, anywhere.

Georgia Tech head football coach John Heisman, October 5, 1912

That blurb is from the main game story in The News and Courier after Georgia Tech defeated The Citadel in Charleston, 20-6, during the 1912 season. The first two games in the series between the Yellow Jackets and Bulldogs were actually played in Hampton Park; the last eight matchups have been held at Grant Field/Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Note: 20-6 is the correct score for that contest. Georgia Tech’s media guide (and consequently its game notes) incorrectly lists the final as 20-16, a typographical error that is probably several decades old.

The game was tied 6-6 after The Citadel scored a third-quarter touchdown, but Heisman’s charges pulled away in the end. The Bulldogs’ TD came on a pass from team captain John Martin to Hugh Sease.

Sease, a native of either St. George or Orangeburg (sources differ), later transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy. He had a distinguished career in the Navy, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

As for John Heisman, he must have been relatively pleased to see an opponent use the pass to its advantage, even against his team:

Heisman walked away convinced [the forward pass] was the play that would save football from itself. As Heisman wrote, violent scrums based around bruising running plays were “killing the game as well as the players.”

In 1904-5, 44 players had been reported killed in football games, with hundreds sustaining serious injuries. Heisman said the forward pass “would scatter the mob.”…

…Heisman began to forcefully lobby Walter Camp, shepherd of the national rules committee. When Camp did not act swiftly enough, Heisman rallied other coaches and newspaper reporters to pressure Camp and the committee. In 1906, the forward pass was legalized with several constraints that limited its effectiveness. Heisman pressed on, and the restrictions were eventually lifted.

Heisman was the football coach at Georgia Tech from 1904 to 1919, and while there fashioned a record of 102-29-7. That included a retroactive but seemingly undeniable national title in 1917 and, of course, the famous (infamous?) 222-0 victory over Cumberland in 1916.

Besides being the namesake of arguably the most famous award in American sports, Heisman was also an actor of some repute. He is almost certainly the only head football coach to win a national title and perform in a featured role in a Broadway play, though I wouldn’t put it past Les Miles to match him someday.

Speaking of coaches who won a national title at Georgia Tech, I can’t post a preview of The Citadel-Georgia Tech without mentioning Bobby Ross, who was a head coach at both schools.

Ross was 103-101-2 as a college head coach, which may seem mediocre, but that includes his five-year stint at The Citadel (during a very difficult era to recruit at a military college) and his three years at Army (which simply didn’t work out).

In between, he won three ACC titles at Maryland and another league crown (and that national title) at Georgia Tech. Then he went to the NFL and took the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl. He even made the playoffs twice with the Detroit Lions.

I think Ross would be a very solid candidate for enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame, but as it happens, he is ineligible. That is because “modern” coaches have to have won at least 60% of their games to receive consideration. This same stipulation excludes Howard Schnellenberger.

Here are the FBS coaching candidates on the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot:

  • Larry Blakeney (Troy)
  • Jim Carlen (West Virginia, Texas Tech, and South Carolina)
  • Billy Jack Murphy (Memphis)
  • Pete Cawthon Sr. (Austin College, Texas Tech)
  • Darryl Rogers (Cal State Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State, Michigan State, Arizona State)

Nothing against those guys, but does anyone paying attention really think they are more deserving than Schnellenberger and Ross? Of course not.

Tangent #1: if the 1990 season had occurred in a 2019 environment, it is hard to imagine Colorado being anywhere near the top of the AP poll. I think the Buffaloes would have been lucky to finish in the top 5, much less gain a “split” of the national title. That fifth-down game against Missouri would have absolutely been considered an additional loss in this era of endless replays/discussion.

It was a very strange year in college football, with only the ridiculous 2007 season exceeding it in terms of sheer weirdness (in the last 50 years or so, anyway). Absent a playoff, however, Georgia Tech was the most deserving team when it came to recognition as the “national champion”.

Georgia Tech will be familiar with the offense The Citadel will run on Saturday because it’s what the Yellow Jackets used for 11 years.

It’s one of few certainties for Georgia Tech right now under new coach Geoff Collins.

The Yellow Jackets (1-1) used 27 different players on offense and 27 on defense in last Saturday’s 14-10 victory over South Florida. Five walk-on players saw action, Jahaziel Lee played on both the offensive and defensive lines, and 176-pound freshman defensive back Kenan Johnson took snaps at defensive end.

It’s all part of the process as Collins remakes the program.

“This is a monumental transition unlike what’s probably happened in college football in a long time,” Collins said. “Every single day we’re a work in progress in every phase of everything we do.”

Georgia Tech used 61 players in all against South Florida. Against Clemson, 63 Yellow Jackets saw the field.

Geoff Collins isn’t just changing Georgia Tech’s offense. He is essentially trying to establish the Yellow Jackets as Atlanta’s college football team.

Collins has spent much of his time trying to build up Georgia Tech’s brand among the locals. The Yellow Jackets rarely sell out games and have been largely overlooked in Atlanta’s crowded sports landscape.

Looking to change that, Collins has taken up nearly every offer to speak in the community, promoted the Yellow Jackets relentlessly on social media, drawn attention of his love for local favorite Waffle House, and tried to reach new fans by taking his players and staff to games hosted by the city’s pro sports teams.

It’s all part of what he calls the “404” culture — a reference to Atlanta’s area code.

“I love this great city,” Collins said. “We want to embrace it. The elite players in the country should be coming to Georgia Tech to play ball.”

The coach is a native of Conyers, so he has local ties. Collins went to Western Carolina, where he was a linebacker in the early 1990s. This is actually his third tour of duty with Georgia Tech, as he was a graduate assistant from 1999 to 2001, and then served as the tight ends coach in 2006.

Collins was the defensive coordinator for FIU, Mississippi State, and Florida before becoming the head coach at Temple, where he had a record of 15-10 in two seasons. Georgia Tech hired him in December of last year to replace the retiring Paul Johnson.

He has faced The Citadel eleven times as either a player or an assistant coach. His teams have won five times, lost five times, and tied once.

Collins is named after Geoff Hurst, an English soccer star of the 1960s and 1970s who is the only player to have scored a hat trick in a FIFA World Cup final (in 1966, against West Germany).

Tangent #2: Admittedly, Hurst’s second goal in that match should not have counted, but he got a knighthood anyway. The referee and linesman who teamed up to award England the goal have inspired several generations of Southern Conference football and basketball officials.

Georgia Tech’s offensive and defensive coordinators are also familiar with The Citadel.

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude was the OC at Coastal Carolina for five years (2012-16). In two of those years, CCU played The Citadel (with the Bulldogs winning the second of those two games in a memorable FCS playoff matchup).

Incidentally, during his press briefing Patenaude mentioned that he would like the Yellow Jackets to be a little more balanced offensively against The Citadel.

Georgia Tech only had 76 yards passing (on 21 attempts) versus South Florida. The Yellow Jackets had 47 runs and 23 pass plays in that contest.

Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker was a defensive back at Furman from 2004 to 2007. Both Thacker and Patenaude came over with Collins from Temple when he took the job with the Yellow Jackets.

Collins and Thacker have experience defending the triple option, as Temple played Army in 2017 and Navy in both 2017 and 2018. The Owls lost in overtime to Army but defeated the Midshipmen twice.

In 2017, Temple held Navy to 4.4 yards per play. The following season, the Midshipmen averaged 5.1 yards per play, but uncharacteristically were considerably more successful via the pass (11.9 yards per attempt) than on the ground (2.6 yards per rush).

The Black Knights averaged 5.7 yards per play versus Temple in their matchup, but needed a 16-yard TD pass with one second to play in regulation in order to force OT.

In all three games, the service academy teams had an edge in time of possession, but it was not an enormous differential.

FCS history of no particular relevance:

  • Collins was 1-1 versus FCS teams in his two seasons at Temple; both games were against ranked Villanova squads (a 16-13 win in 2017 and a 19-17 loss in 2018)
  • Georgia Tech is 33-1-1 against FCS teams; both the tie (in 1986) and the loss (1983) came versus Furman

Geoff Collins, like most coaches, emphasizes turnovers.

Well they come in waves, turnovers do. Coach [Andrew] Thacker and our defensive staff do a great job emphasizing that. They incentivize what we emphasize. And so the turnover board, the turnover graphics to post on social media, all of those things. We start every single meeting in the defensive meeting room talking about turnovers. Showing the plays we get turnovers every single practice. We left two on the table, too. There were two we should have had on Saturday and they just didn’t bounce our way. But that is one of the calling cards of our defense and the thing that stands out is the effort. Interceptions are going to happen. The coverage, or if they get a bad read, or we make a really good athletic play. The ones that I’m the most proud of are the caused fumbles, the effort plays to get to the ball and recover the ball, and I’m really proud of the way the defense is doing that, flying around.”

Oh yes, the turnover board:

It’s a different spin on the “turnover chain”, that’s for sure.

Georgia Tech also doesn’t use a traditional depth chart. Instead, Collins rolls with something called “Above The Line”. It is both a play on the “ATL” moniker for the city of Atlanta and a way to motivate players (at least, that is the intent).

The Yellow Jackets don’t release their “Above The Line” listings for the upcoming game until Thursday; here is the one for the matchup versus The Citadel.

As for some of the players to watch for on Saturday…

Georgia Tech will probably play three quarterbacks against the Bulldogs. Lucas Johnson (6’3″, 215 lbs.), a redshirt sophomore from San Diego, started against South Florida, but Tobias Oliver (6’2″, 190 lbs.) and James Graham (6’1″, 192 lbs.) both saw action as well.

Oliver was the starter versus Clemson. The redshirt sophomore from Warner Robins rushed for 876 yards last season despite starting only one game. That was against Virginia Tech, and Oliver rushed for 215 yards on 40 carries versus the Hokies.

Running back Jordan Mason (6’1″, 219 lbs.) rushed for 99 yards on 20 attempts against USF. He had 72 yards on 13 carries versus Clemson (and scored touchdowns in both contests).

Six different players caught passes for the Yellow Jackets in both games. There were a total of eight “Above The Line” wide receivers for the Yellow Jackets when they faced South Florida.

One of those eight players, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Adonicas Sanders (6’1″, 195 lbs.), won a state title as a basketball player at Burke High School in Charleston. He then attended Fort Dorchester in North Charleston for his final two years of high school, where he was part of a state championship team on the gridiron as a junior.

The offensive linemen who started versus South Florida average 6’4″, 304 lbs. However, there could be some changes on the line against The Citadel, as both left guard Mikey Minehan (6’3″, 297 lbs.) and center Kenny Cooper (6’3″, 317 lbs.) were injured early in the game against the Bulls. Georgia Tech had to use redshirt sophomore walk-on William Lay III (6’2″, 305 lbs.) at center for the majority of the game versus USF.

This week, any further reshuffling of the line might prevent an unusual two-way player scenario from re-occurring. Jahaziel Lee (6’2″, 300 lbs.), a senior from Ponchatoula, Louisiana, started at left tackle last week — but he also filled in on the defensive line.

Andrew Thacker explained Georgia Tech’s philosophy on player positions (for this season, at any rate) during the defensive coordinator’s press briefing:

“When we get into those situations, we can be really creative with who we put on the field. We don’t have Von Miller on our team. We don’t have Khalil Mack, so we’re not going to be confined by body types or tradition.”

That is probably a good mindset when you’re in a transition phase like Georgia Tech is right now, but in the long run having a 176 lb. freshman defensive back occasionally line up as a DE (as Kenan Johnson did against South Florida) is not likely to be a sustainable solution.

Georgia Tech’s star defensive player last week was 6’2″, 210 lb. linebacker Charlie Thomas (conveniently from Thomasville, Georgia). The sophomore, a converted cornerback, was named the ACC linebacker of the week after a nine-tackle performance that included two sacks and a forced fumble.

Redshirt sophomore defensive back Tre Swilling (6’0″, 200 lbs.) intercepted a pass against Clemson, nearly returning it for a touchdown. Swilling is the son of all-time Tech great Pat Swilling, the former New Orleans Saints all-pro defensive lineman.

Swilling’s two uncles also played for Georgia Tech, and were members of the 1990 national championship team. That team also included All-American defensive lineman Coleman Rudolph, whose nephew Thompson Rudolph (6’0″, 195 lb.) is a redshirt freshman DB. The younger Rudolph was a safety and quarterback for Spartanburg High School.

Starting punter Pressley Harvin III (6’0″, 245 lbs.) is a junior from Sumter. He was a second-team all-ACC selection last season despite being, as described in his bio on the Georgia Tech website, “one of the nation’s least-utilized weapons”.

Redshirt sophomore Brenton King (6’0″, 176 lbs.) started at placekicker for the Yellow Jackets last week. He was 2 for 2 on PATs, but missed his only field goal attempt (albeit a 51-yarder). King is also the kickoff specialist.

Against Clemson, Wesley Wells (6’0″, 205 lbs.) was the placekicker, making two extra points. Wells finished last season as Georgia Tech’s kicker, a year in which he did not miss a field goal attempt or a PAT.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Atlanta, per the National Weather Service: partly sunny, with a high of 90 degrees and a 20% chance of showers and/or thunderstorms.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Georgia Tech (as of Wednesday evening) is a 26-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 57 1/2.

When the line debuted on Monday, the Yellow Jackets were 36-point favorites (and the over/under was 61 1/2). There has been a surprising amount of line movement for the Bulldogs’ first three games.

In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few folks started looking at recent trends involving triple option teams and reacted accordingly.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Furman is a 21-point underdog at Virginia Tech; Wofford is a 10 1/2 point favorite versus Samford; East Tennessee State is a 19-point favorite against VMI; Chattanooga is a 28-point underdog at Tennessee; Western Carolina is a 10-point favorite versus North Greenville; and Mercer is a 6 1/2 point favorite against Austin Peay.

– Also of note: Towson is a 3 1/2 point underdog at Maine; Charleston Southern is a 13 1/2 point underdog against North Carolina A&T; and Elon-Richmond is a pick’em.

South Carolina State is a 24 1/2 point underdog at South Florida.

The biggest favorite in a D-1 matchup this week is LSU, with the line for its game against Northwestern State at 51 1/2 points. In games between FBS teams, the largest spread is 35 1/2, with Auburn favored over Kent State.

In contests between FCS teams, the biggest favorite is James Madison, a 33 1/2 point favorite over Morgan State. I also thought it was worth mentioning that North Dakota State is a 28 1/2 point favorite on the road over a ranked team (Delaware).

Georgetown and Delaware State are both playing non-D1 teams this week, and both are favored by over 40 points. This might be the first time in decades (if not in history) those two programs are both favored by that much in the same week.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 196th in D-1 (66th in FCS), while Georgia Tech is 52nd in D-1 (51st in FBS).

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 2% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Georgia Tech 43, The Citadel 10.

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, South Dakota State, Princeton, and James Madison.

Dartmouth is 6th. Neither Princeton or Dartmouth have played yet, of course.

The Ivy League schools begin their respective seasons next week. Massey has seven of the eight Ivies ranked in the top 60, which seems instinctively wrong.

Other FCS rankings this week of varied interest: Towson is 16th, North Carolina A&T 27th, Kennesaw State 30th, Elon 34th, Furman 37th, Mercer 46th, Wofford 50th, Chattanooga 62nd, South Carolina State 64th, East Tennessee State 71st, Samford 76th, North Alabama 79th, Western Carolina 92nd, Campbell 95th, VMI 99th, Charleston Southern 100th, Davidson 108th, Gardner-Webb 113th, Presbyterian 125th, and Robert Morris 126th and last.

– Per Bill Connelly’s SP+ ratings, Georgia Tech has a projected margin of victory of 25.7 points over the Bulldogs, with The Citadel given a 7% chance of pulling the upset.

– The Yellow Jackets have only been flagged for four penalties so far this season.

– Georgia Tech’s notable alumni include government official Orson Swindle (who was also a prisoner of war for seven years), dance instructor Arthur Murray, and comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

– The Ramblin’ Wreck’s roster includes 74 players from Georgia. Other states represented: Florida (10 players), Tennessee (7), South Carolina (6), Alabama (4), Louisiana (4), New Jersey (3), and one each from Arkansas, California, Hawai’i, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. There is also one Yellow Jacket from Belgium, freshman defensive lineman Sylvain Yondjouen.

No member of Georgia Tech’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. If Geoff Collins is truly serious about recruiting elite players to The Flats, he obviously must make repeat visits to the lower midlands of South Carolina, and do so sooner rather than later. Collins cannot afford to miss out on the incredible gridiron talent perennially suiting up in the famed maroon and orange.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– The Citadel has a running back named Dante Smith. Georgia Tech has a running back named Dontae Smith.

– There are no changes from The Citadel’s two-deep for the Elon game to the one for the matchup with the Yellow Jackets.

– Sean-Thomas Faulkner has blocked four punts in his last eight games.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-1 for games played on September 14. Among the highlights:

  • 1974: The Bulldogs defeated Presbyterian 6-0 in the season opener, with the game played in damp conditions after a downpour just before kickoff (and intermittent showers during the contest). The Citadel’s touchdown came in the third quarter; Gene Dotson from one yard out. The PAT attempt narrowly missed hitting one of the linesmen standing underneath the goalposts. Brian Ruff had 18 official tackles, though it seemed like he had many more, as the P.A. announcer at Johnson Hagood Stadium regularly called out his name on defense. Kemble Farr also had a good game for the Bulldogs (12 tackles). The game story in The News and Courier listed the attendance as both 8,700 (the copy) and 8,000 (the box score), while the media guide claims it was 8,775. I guess nobody knows for sure how many people were there that day. I just know that I was one of them; it was the first football game I ever attended.
  • 1996: The Citadel edged Richmond 13-10 at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Stanley Myers rushed for a one-yard TD with 44 seconds remaining for the winning score. Justin Skinner had two field goals for the Bulldogs. Andrew Green and Kenyatta Spruill combined to rush for 249 yards. Attendance: 13,069.
  • 2002: As mentioned above, Stanley Myers scored with 44 seconds left to lift the Bulldogs to victory on September 14, 1996. Exactly six years later, Nehemiah Broughton scored the winning touchdown for The Citadel from one yard out…with 43 seconds to play. Broughton’s TD (his second of the day) capped a 21-play, 91-yard drive that took 7:35 off the clock, including two fourth-down conversions (one at The Citadel’s own 18-yard line). The Bulldogs’ leading rusher on the day was Nate Mahoney (128 yards), while Scooter Johnson added 116 receiving yards (and a TD). Travis Zobel kicked two field goals for The Citadel.
  • 2013: Ben Dupree rushed for 126 yards as The Citadel outlasted Western Carolina in Cullowhee, 28-21. The game featured several odd plays, including an accidental fake punt by Eric Goins that set up a TD. Meanwhile, a would-be WCU punt was fumbled into the waiting arms of Tevin Floyd, who waltzed into the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown return. The decisive play of the contest, however, came with the Catamounts driving for a potential tying touchdown. Brandon McCladdie deflected a pass; the football then ricocheted off the knee of Derek Douglas, and was eventually corralled by Julian Baxter for the game-clinching interception.

According to The Citadel’s game notes, the freshmen members of the Corps of Cadets will be travelling to Atlanta to support the Bulldogs, which is excellent news.

The trip had already been planned, but after last week’s Hurrication I was uncertain whether or not it was still going to happen.

This has been a tough start to the season for The Citadel, which on the whole has not played badly, but doesn’t have a win to show for it. Picking up the initial victory of the season against a Power 5 opponent is a tall order.

It isn’t impossible, though. The challenge is not quite as daunting as the Alabama game was last season, and the Bulldogs acquitted themselves fairly well in that contest.

That said, even with a coaching transition (and a major change in offense), Georgia Tech has the advantage in many areas of this matchup.

The Citadel must begin the game well. A slow start, as has been the case for the Bulldogs in both games this season, would be ominous.

Avoid turnovers, control the clock, and all of the other clichés do apply. One other thing that has to happen, though, is that The Citadel’s offense has to break off multiple big plays. That is practically a must if the Bulldogs want to stay in the game with a chance to win it.

In the end, this is a great opportunity for the Bulldogs. I hope they make the most of it.

Game Review, 2019: Elon

Links of interest:

– Game story, The Post and Courier

Game story, Burlington Times-News

– WCSC-TV game report (video)

– School release

– Game highlights (video)

– Box score

Key stats:

The Citadel Elon
Field Position* 39.82 (+13.38) 26.44 (-13.38)
Success Rate (per play)* 39.66% 53.45%
Big plays (20+ yards) 2 7
Finishing drives (average points) 7.0 7.0
Turnovers* 0 0
Expected turnovers 0.94 0.00
Possessions* 11 9
Points per possession* 2.55 3.89
Offensive Plays* 58 58
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 3.33 7.0
Yards/pass att* (incl. sacks) 6.89 10.27
Yards/play* 3.88 8.24
3rd down conversions* 5 of 14 5 of 10
4th down conversions* 2 of 3 1 of 1
Red Zone TD% 4 of 4 (100% 3 of 3 (100%)
Net punting 44.3 9.0
Time of possession 31:45 28:15
TOP/offensive play 32.29 sec 26.08 sec
Penalties 6 for 45 9 for 79
1st down passing* 1/2, 3 yards 7/11, 141 yards, TD
3rd and long passing 1/3, 27 yards, TD** 1/2, 6 yards
4th down passing* 0/1 1/1, 6 yards
1st down yards/play* 3.29 7.93
3rd down average yards to go* 7.14 5.00
Defensive 3-and-outs+* 2 4

*final drive for Elon in each half and last play of game for TC not included
**also sacked twice

Observations based on the above statistics:

– For the second week in a row, an opponent averaged over eight yards per play. That happened three times last season (against Chattanooga, Towson, and Alabama).

– Through two games, opponents have 13 big plays against the Bulldogs’ defense. Meanwhile, The Citadel’s offense has only three big plays of its own.

– In both games, The Citadel’s offense has had four three-and-outs (or worse). That means in 40% of the Bulldogs’ possessions, they have not picked up a first down.

– The Citadel’s 35.2% third down conversion rate on offense against Elon was lower than in all but three of the Bulldogs’ games last year (Wofford, Alabama, Charleston Southern).

– The Bulldogs are averaging 2.45 points per possession after two games. In eight SoCon contests last year, The Citadel averaged 3.18 points per possession.

It should be noted that in its first two games in 2018 (Wofford and Chattanooga), the Bulldogs averaged just 2.0 points per possession.

– This is the second week in a row an opponent has had a 50% or better success rate on third down against the Bulldogs’ defense (not counting the two third downs in end-of-half possessions). Last year, The Citadel had a defensive third down conversion rate of 35.2% (all games).

– Elon had a Success rate of 53.45%. Last year, only one team had a Success Rate against The Citadel’s defense that exceeded 50%: Alabama (66.67%).

– The Citadel did not force a turnover on Saturday, something that only happened twice in 2018 (against Furman and East Tennessee State).

– The Bulldogs have converted five 4th-down attempts (in six tries). Only three FCS teams have converted more so far this year: Tennessee Tech (7), Davidson (6), and Kennesaw State (6).

– The Citadel’s 3.33 yards per rush (taking out sacks) was the lowest for a game since last year’s season opener versus Wofford. The Bulldogs’ 3.88 yards per play was the lowest since that same contest against the Terriers.

– A positive: the Bulldogs have scored TDs in seven of their eight trips inside the Red Zone so far this season.

– A major positive: yes, Elon’s net yards punting was 9.0, which is what happens when two of four punts are blocked. Both punt blocks were by Sean-Thomas Faulkner, who also drew a rare fighting penalty from Elon on one of the two punts that he didn’t block.

Random thoughts:

– From the game story in The Post and Courier, Brent Thompson said (among other things):

“We’ve got to figure things out a little bit more on the defensive side, and get ahead of the game on offense. We haven’t been able to get a lead on these guys in the last two games.”

The Citadel would have had a much better chance of getting a lead on Elon if a fumble recovery by the Bulldogs on the Phoenix’s second possession had stood. It didn’t, because the officials ruled that the play never happened.

The reason for that ruling? An “inadvertent whistle”.

I didn’t hear the whistle, and no one around me heard it either. It did not affect the action, as in fact the play was run as if nothing happened (possibly because nothing did happen).

This is the kind of thing that sours fans on officials. At best, it was a demonstration of complete incompetence that dramatically benefited the home team, a member of the same conference that provided the men in stripes.

(Admittedly, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised if the officials had been from the SoCon.)

– The onside kick was exquisitely timed and wonderfully executed, from Jacob Godek’s inch-perfect kick to Ryland Ayers’ recovery on the run.

– The Bulldogs were a little slow to run plays on their final (full) drive, in my opinion. It wasn’t terrible and it didn’t impact the outcome of the game, but I think The Citadel should have gone into more of hurry-up mode at about the three-minute mark.

– Announced attendance: 5,071. There was a decent contingent of Bulldog fans at the game, though not quite as many as I was expecting. The weather was warm and the sun was bright and powerful.

– Forty-eight Bulldogs played in the contest, one fewer than last week.

– Elon has a nice gameday setup, but some of the staffers working parking didn’t seem very sure of where people were allowed to park. That seemed sub-optimal.

– The new uniforms are growing on me, and I kind of liked them already. There is one issue with wearing all white, though:

I wasn’t overly disappointed after last week’s game, but Saturday’s contest was more frustrating. The Bulldogs really struggled on both sides of the ball, with the offense not really getting into gear until the fourth quarter, and the defense never establishing itself at all.

The special teams were fantastic, and it seemed a shame to “waste” that advantage in a game that The Citadel didn’t win.

There are positives — for one thing, the Bulldogs yet again showed resilience after falling behind. However, that isn’t enough to turn defeats into victories.

Hopefully, the Bulldogs will begin winning games like this when SoCon play begins. There are still two games to go before that stretch of play begins, though.

Next week: the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech, in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets beat South Florida 14-10 on Saturday to win their first game of the campaign.

I’ll post about that game later this week.

This week’s pictures are below. I started having battery issues with my cellphone at halftime, so there are just a few third-quarter shots and none from the final period.

Don’t worry, though — the ones I did take are still lousy.

 

 

 

2019 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Elon

The Citadel vs. Elon, to be played on McKinnon Field at Rhodes Stadium in Elon, North Carolina, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on September 7, 2019. 

The game will be streamed on FloSports. Taylor Durham will handle play-by-play, while Matt Krause supplies the analysis.

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

Luke Mauro (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Ted Byrne.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2019 radio affiliates

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

Links of interest:

– Preview from The Post and Courier

– News from Camp Bulldog

– Game notes from The Citadel and Elon

– SoCon weekly release

CAA weekly release

Preview on The Citadel’s website

– Preview on Elon’s website

– Phoenix seeks fixes up front

Elon head coach Tony Trisciani on the CAA teleconference

The Dogs:  Episode 2

Well, here we go again. Another year brings us yet another hurricane that will have an impact on the Bulldogs’ preparation for a football game.

Obviously, the potential issues associated with Hurricane Dorian are about a lot more than football. In this limited context, though, it has to be very frustrating for the coaches and players to have to go through this scenario once more.

At least Brent Thompson and company know what to expect from the team’s home away from home, Look Up Lodge, a/k/a The Citadel’s branch campus in the Upstate. By now, everyone should know the routine.

This week’s game is being streamed on FloSports, which is the official streaming provider of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

If you want to watch the game on FloSports, you will have to fork out $12.50 to do so. That is the cost of a monthly fee (you can’t get a per-game deal). Oh, and it automatically renews for another month if you don’t cancel.

That strikes me as a good excuse to make the trip to Elon on Saturday.

I realize not everyone can do that. The Citadel has fans all over the country (and all over the world, for that matter). For those who can’t make it to the game, I recommend listening to Luke Mauro and Ted Byrne call the action on the radio.

It is definitely the right option — and, after all, it is also free.

The agreement the CAA has with FloSports is for four years. I think it might be best if The Citadel tried to avoid scheduling road games against CAA opposition over that four-year period, just because of this contract.

The SoCon’s deal with ESPN+ is better (and cheaper).

In 1889 several Alamance County mill owners and farmers gave or sold parcels of land for the site of a new educational institution named Elon to take the place of the nearby Graham College.

Originally, there was a two-year higher education institution in the town of Graham, North Carolina, and various leaders of that school wanted to establish a four-year college. The North Carolina legislature granted a charter for the school, which was founded by followers of what is now called the United Church of Christ.

The decision was made to build the new school near a local freight depot called Mill Point. Then the founders had to figure out what to name their new college.

If they could have found a major donor, they would gladly have named it after him (or her). That didn’t happen, so eventually they settled on Elon, which means “oak tree” in Hebrew (there were a lot of oak trees in the immediate area).

Sadly, the founders did not get to use their first choice of a school name — Bon Air.

Tangent: imagine if the school actually wound up being named Bon Air. Then, over a century later, the ludicrous action movie “Con Air” would have almost certainly given the institution tons of accidental free publicity. The school’s College of Arts and Sciences could have taken full advantage of this, hosting symposiums on topics like “Was Nicolas Cage’s accent the very worst in motion picture history, or just in the top five?” and “Trisha versus LeAnn, or Live versus Liiiiiieve”.

By the mid-1930s, Elon was in serious trouble, having briefly lost its accreditation and suffering from a serious financial crisis, thanks in part to the Great Depression. In 1931, there were only 87 students, and that didn’t change much over the next several years.

During World War II, however, 672 Army Air Corps pilots trained on campus, and their enrollment helped the school survive. After the war, veterans and the G.I. Bill led to a further increase in students.

Today, Elon has over 6,000 undergraduates, and its ten graduate programs include about 800 more students.

Elon has had only six school presidents in the last hundred years. The current holder of that office is a familiar name to folks at The Citadel, as Connie Ledoux Book was previously the provost at the military college before taking the top job at Elon.

Book had previously spent 16 years at Elon as a faculty member and administrator, so she was no stranger to the school.

Elon’s varsity athletic teams used to be called the “Fightin’ Christians”, but in 2000 the institution dropped that in favor of “Phoenix”, which is a reference to the college’s rebuilding after a devastating fire in 1923.

Thus, Elon no longer features great logos like this one:

There was also a Fightin’ Christians mascot, as can be seen in the photos here: Link

Elon was a member of the Southern Conference from 2003 to 2014. While 36 different schools have left the league over the years (some more than once), Elon may have left on the worst terms with the conference than any of them.

This statement was part of an official release from then-SoCon commissioner John Iamarino:

“In recent years, it became increasingly evident that Elon’s negative view of the diversity in the Southern Conference was not shared by the majority of the membership.”

A lot of the anger seemed to be directed at the president of Elon at the time, Leo Lambert, who was reported to have opposed the re-admission into the league of East Tennessee State and VMI. Lambert later denied that he had not wanted VMI back in the SoCon (he more or less remained mum on ETSU), but it is clear there was significant conflict between the school and the rest of the conference.

Lambert and Iamarino are both now retired. Elon is presumably happy in the CAA, and the SoCon is motoring along just as it has since 1921. I think everyone has moved on.

Elon has made the FCS playoffs in each of the last two seasons. The Phoenix were not dominant in either year, to be sure, but qualified for post-season play anyway. Both times, there were somewhat unusual circumstances at play.

In 2017, Elon lost its opening game to Toledo, 47-13. The Phoenix then won eight straight games by a combined margin of 31 points, meaning that late in the season Elon was 8-1 despite being outscored by its opponents.

The Phoenix began the victory streak by edging Furman 34-31, then won seven more games by scores of 19-17, 36-33, 6-0, 25-17, 35-34, 19-14, and 33-30 (that last contest in 2OT).

A team has to be good to keep winning games in such a fashion. Eventually, however, things will begin to swing in the other direction, and Elon lost its last three games of the season, including a one-point playoff defeat to none other than Furman.

The 2018 season began with a loss to South Florida, but then Elon began winning games again, including victories over Furman (a 45-7 mauling), Charleston Southern, New Hampshire, and an extremely impressive road win over James Madison.

The Phoenix were 4-1, ranked 5th in the AFCA FCS poll, and looking like a cinch playoff team and a probable seed. Then…well, let’s look at some charts.

Statistics of note for Elon’s offense in 2018 against FCS opponents, broken down into three distinct phases of its season:

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush Yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd Down conv 3rd Down att RZ TD conv RZ TD att
@Fur 58 7.72 41 6.76 17 10.06 0 0 6 11 2 2
@CSU 77 5.79 50 4.47 27 7.74 1 0 6 14 4 5
UNH 79 5.71 48 4.02 31 8.32 1 0 7 18 2 5
@JMU 72 6.92 39 5.56 33 8.52 0 0 1 15 2 4
Totals 286 178 108 2 0 20 58 10 16
Average 71.5 6.44 44.5 5.11 27 8.51 34.5% 62.5%

 

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd down conv 3rd down att RZ TD conv
RZ TD att
@Del. 70 4.13 37 3.49 33 4.85 0 0 5 18 1 3
Rich. 69 6.64 55 4.96 14 13.21 1 0 8 16 2 4
URI 55 6.44 47 6.78 8 4.38 0 0 3 10 1 2
Towson 59 4.03 37 6.19 22 0.41 1 0 4 14 1 2
Totals 253 176 77 2 0 20 58 5 11
Average 5.29 44 5.40 5.05 34.5% 45.5%

 

Plays Yds/play Rush att Rush yds/play Pass plays Pass Yds/Att Lost fumbles Int. 3rd down conv 3rd down att RZ TD conv
RZ TD att
@Maine 88 4.91 36 4.67 52 5.08 2 1 7 19 1 4
@Woff. 60 4.33 28 1.82 32 6.53 1 1 8 13 1 2
Totals 148 74.00 84.00 3 2 15 32 2 6
Avg. 4.67 37 2.96 42 5.63 46.9% 33.3%

 

Davis Cheek started at quarterback for Elon in all 12 games in 2017. He also started in last year’s victories over Furman, Charleston Southern, New Hampshire, and James Madison. With Cheek calling the signals, the Phoenix offense had outstanding numbers in terms of yards per play, yards per pass attempt, and Red Zone TD rate.

Then, disaster. Cheek tore his ACL early in Elon’s game against Delaware and was lost for the season.

Jalen Greene took over as QB. Greene was a capable runner, but not much of a passer. That is reflected in the statistics for the next four games, including the loss to Delaware and a 41-10 setback against Towson in which Greene was sacked three times while completing only five passes.

However, Elon was able to win the other two games during this stretch, including a crucial 24-21 Homecoming victory over Rhode Island. After the win over the Rams, Elon was 6-2 and had moved back up to #5 in the rankings.

The loss to Towson dropped the Phoenix to #12.

Greene started the regular-season finale at Maine, but in the second quarter of that game he was replaced by Daniel Thompson — who had been Elon’s starting QB in 2015 and 2016. Thompson threw 43 passes against the Black Bears in a comeback that fell just short (27-26).

Elon was 6-4, and certainly not the same team it had been with Cheek at QB, but the Phoenix made the playoffs anyway, thanks mostly to its outstanding early-season wins.

Against Wofford in the first round of the playoffs, Thompson got the start, but Elon never really got going (and also didn’t have the ball that much, as the Terriers had over a 14-minute time of possession advantage). Wofford won, 19-7.

Elon’s success in 2017 and 2018 came under the tutelage of Curt Cignetti, who had arrived after a very good run at D-2 Indiana of Pennsylvania. Cignetti, a former assistant at Alabama under Nick Saban, is now the head coach at James Madison, taking that job after Mike Houston was named head coach at East Carolina.

The new boss of the Phoenix is Tony Trisciani, who had been Cignetti’s defensive coordinator. Trisciani’s career has included being on the same staff with Chip Kelly (when Kelly was an assistant coach at New Hampshire) and two different tours of duty at Elon, with the first of those a one-year stint (in 2006) as special teams coordinator.

After five years at Villanova, where he was both the recruiting coordinator and (later) the defensive coordinator, Trisciani was hired by Cignetti as his DC. Now, two years later, Trisciani is a college head coach for the first time.

Elon began this season ranked #21 in the AFCA FCS poll, but is now unranked for the first time since September 2017 after losing at North Carolina A&T, 24-21. The Aggies won the game with a last-second, 52-yard field goal.

All three of the Phoenix’s touchdowns came on long drives of at least ten plays. The possessions were all around five minutes in game length.

Davis Cheek was back at quarterback for Elon, and he was 16 for 27 passing, with one TD. However, he was also sacked five times.

The Phoenix struggled to run the ball, averaging 2.1 yards per rush (not including sacks). Elon’s longest run from scrimmage was just 12 yards.

Defensively, the Phoenix were respectable, although North Carolina A&T quarterback Kylil Carter was only sacked once (he had 27 pass attempts), and the Aggies scored touchdowns all three times they advanced into the Red Zone.

Just a few of Elon’s offensive players to watch:

Davis Cheek (6’3″, 210 lbs.): As mentioned above, Cheek has been very successful during his career at Elon. Before his injury last season, he had completed 65.8% of his passes, averaging 8.48 yards per attempt (sacks not counted), with four touchdowns against two interceptions. A native of Matthews, North Carolina, Cheek is a redshirt junior.

Jaylan Thomas (5’9″, 195 lbs.): Thomas is a sophomore running back from Carrolton, Georgia. Last season, he was named the CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year (despite missing three games due to injury) after rushing for 761 yards and four TDs, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

Thomas had an 86-yard touchdown run against Rhode Island, a key play in that contest. He wasn’t asked to catch the ball much, but he did have seven receptions.

Matt Foster (6’4″, 250 lbs.): A senior from Williamsville, New York, Foster has been Elon’s starting tight end since midway through the 2016 campaign. Last year, he caught 17 passes, averaging 8.8 yards per reception. In 2017, though, Foster averaged 12.7 yards per catch (19 receptions).

Kortez Weeks (6’0″, 173 lbs.): Weeks caught 36 passes last season, averaging 13.4 yards per reception. The junior from Mt. Ulla, North Carolina was a third-team all-CAA selection in 2017, when he had 60 receptions.

Cole Taylor (6’4″, 215 lbs.): Yet another tall target for the Phoenix, Taylor caught 31 passes in 2018. He averaged 16.9 yards per catch. Taylor is a senior from Marietta, Georgia.

Matt Kowalewski (6’4″, 285 lbs.): The senior right guard from Charlotte has started 27 games for Elon during his career, tied for the most (with Foster) of any offensive player for the Phoenix. Kowalewski is one of two returning starters from last season’s offensive line.

The projected starters for Elon’s o-line average 6’4″, 296 lbs.

Defensive players to watch for the Phoenix include (but are by no means limited to):

Marcus Willoughby (6’3″, 253 lbs.): A defensive end from Durham, Willoughby was a third-team all-CAA choice last year after compiling 58 tackles, including 2 1/2 sacks. The senior was the league’s defensive player of the week after a performance against New Hampshire that included 4 1/2 tackles for loss (two sacks).

Tristen Cox (6’3″, 324 lbs.): The mammoth nosetackle has 24 career starts. Cox recovered three fumbles last season, leading the team. The junior from Piqua, Ohio had seven tackles (including a sack) against Furman.

Greg Liggs, Jr. (5’11”, 198 lbs.): Last season, Elon’s free safety was a second-team all-CAA pick after making 65 tackles (second-most on the team) and intercepting four passes; he broke up nine others.

A senior from Greensboro, Liggs has started 25 games for the Phoenix.

Daniel Reid-Bennett (6’1″, 193 lbs.): Reid-Bennett has appeared in all but one game during his career at Elon, with 22 starts. The senior cornerback from Lexington, North Carolina had 55 tackles (42 solo stops) in 2018.

Jalen Greene (6’2″, 195 lbs.): As discussed above, Greene started four games at quarterback for the Phoenix last season, but has now moved to the other side of the ball. The junior from Durham is not listed as a starter on the two-deep, but as one of the team’s fastest players, I would not be surprised to see him in action on Saturday.

Elon’s kicking specialists from last season both return. Placekicker Skyler Davis (5’8″, 151 lbs.) was 17 of 22 on field goal tries, only missing once (in 15 attempts) from inside 40 yards. He did not miss a PAT.

Davis, a sophomore, went to the same high school (Allatoona, in Acworth, Georgia) as Bulldogs quarterback Brandon Rainey and wide receiver Raleigh Webb.

Hunter Stephenson (6’5″, 220 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Wake Forest, North Carolina, is in his third season as Elon’s punter. Eighteen of his 54 punts last year were downed inside the 20; he only had one touchback all season.

Elon’s primary kick returner is Shamari Wingard (6’0″, 174 lbs.), a sophomore from Charlotte who also handled kick return duties last year.

Another Charlotte sophomore, Bryson Daughtry (6’0″, 184 lbs.) is listed on the depth chart as the lead punt returner. Of note, Elon only returned nine punts all of last season, for a total of 29 yards; its average of 3.22 yards per punt return was sixth-lowest in FCS.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday at Elon, per the National Weather Service: sunny, with a high of 87 degrees.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Elon (as of Wednesday evening) is a 7 1/2 point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 51 1/2.

When the line opened on Tuesday, Elon was a 5 1/2 point favorite, so the spread moved two points in the Phoenix’s direction in a 24-hour period.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  VMI is a 16 1/2 point favorite over Mars Hill; Chattanooga is a 6 1/2 point underdog at Jacksonville State; East Tennessee State is a 40-point favorite over Shorter; Furman is a 7-point underdog at Vols-vanquisher Georgia State; and Western Carolina is a 42 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina State.

Presumably because the game wasn’t scheduled until Monday, the Mercer-Presbyterian game has no line. Wofford and Samford are both off this week (and play each other next week).

– Also of note: Towson is a 21 1/2 point favorite over North Carolina Central; Charleston Southern is a 40 1/2 point underdog at South Carolina; and Georgia Tech is a 6 1/2 point favorite over South Florida.

Coming off its big win over Wofford, South Carolina State is a 32-point favorite over Lane College.

The biggest favorite in the FCS ranks is Abilene Christian, a 51 1/2 point favorite over Arizona Christian (an NAIA school). In matchups between FCS teams, the largest spread is 44 1/2, with Illinois State favored over Morehead State.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 61st in FCS (down 11 places from last week), while Elon is 41st.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 30% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Elon 28, The Citadel 21 (kind of a familiar scoreline, isn’t it?).

The top five teams in Massey’s FCS rankings this week: North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, South Dakota State, Princeton, and UC Davis.

Other rankings this week of varied interest: James Madison (6th), Towson (18th), Kennesaw State (21st), North Carolina A&T (29th), Furman (39th), Jacksonville State (46th), Wofford (49th, down 25 spots), Mercer (50th), Chattanooga (51st), South Carolina State (62nd, up 30 places and the biggest riser in the sub-division), East Tennessee State (68th), Samford (69th, down 27 spots with the largest drop this week in FCS), Western Carolina (91st), Charleston Southern (95th), VMI (102nd), Davidson (114th), Presbyterian (122nd), and Merrimack (126th and last).

– Elon’s notable alumni include broadcaster Wes Durham, actor Grant Gustin, and basketball coach Frank Haith.

– Elon’s roster includes 44 players from North Carolina. Other states represented:  Virginia (14 players), Georgia (8), Ohio (7), New Jersey (7), Florida (3), Connecticut (3), Pennsylvania (3), Maryland (3), Massachusetts (2), South Carolina (2), and one each from Kentucky, Indiana, California, Alabama, Louisiana, and New York.

No member of Elon’s team is an alumnus of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This failure to recruit players who have worn the fabled maroon and orange will hover over the football program like a malignant cloud, probably for decades. Why the current or former coaching staff has not attempted to bring in stars from the celebrated gridiron powerhouse is a great mystery, unless the school is simply not interested in being competitive in football in the long term.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (53 players), Georgia (29), Florida (8), Texas (5), North Carolina (3), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Virginia, Nebraska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Ohio, and Kentucky.

In addition, there are two Bulldogs with listed hometowns in other countries — junior tight end Elijah Lowe (Abaco, Bahamas), and freshman linebacker Hayden Williamson (Okinawa, Japan).

– This week’s two-deep only has two changes from the one from last week. Clay Harris is listed as one of the kick returners, and Jay Girdner makes an appearance on the depth chart at strong safety.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 2-3 for games played on September 7. The two victories both came over Presbyterian.

  • In 1985, the Bulldogs edged the Blue Hose 14-7 before 18,000 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Despite controlling the clock and having the edge in total offense, The Citadel didn’t take the lead until the fourth quarter, when Kip Allen threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Williams. Allen also connected with Clay Morphis for a TD. Tommy French’s interception with 17 seconds to play sealed the win. Also worth noting: Greg Davis attempted a 59-yard field goal at the end of the first half; it hit the crossbar but did not go over.
  • In 1991, The Citadel beat PC 33-10 on a soggy evening before 17,660 spectators. Employing a split-back veer (a brief experiment during the Charlie Taaffe era, never to be repeated), the Bulldogs accumulated 444 yards of total offense. Jack Douglas rushed for 106 yards and threw a 76-yard TD pass to Willie Jones, while Cedric Sims added 115 yards rushing. Lester Smith intercepted a pass (returning it 66 yards) and also forced a fumble.

This is a key game for both teams, as neither wants to start the season 0-2. The major unknown, in my opinion, is how the Bulldogs will react to their unplanned relocation from campus. The fact that The Citadel was scheduled to play a road game probably alleviates some of the negatives associated with the break in routine. At least, I would like to think so.

Elon has been a very good team over the previous two years with its full complement of players, and Davis Cheek and Jaylan Adams are both back in action for the Phoenix. The loss to North Carolina A&T wasn’t a shock (the Aggies have been an outstanding program in recent years), but it may still have come as a bit of a surprise (Elon was a 3 1/2 point favorite).

Defensively, the Bulldogs need to take advantage of Elon’s relative inexperience on the offensive line (three new starters) and put pressure on Cheek. The Citadel cannot afford to give Cheek time to find open receivers, especially considering his receiving corps is a veteran group with good size.

On offense, The Citadel will have to first figure out how the Phoenix will defend the triple option. Then, the Bulldogs will have to execute properly, avoiding turnovers and other costly mistakes (like penalties). The Citadel also needs more big plays on offense this week.

It should be a good game. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m ready for Saturday. So is everyone else, I suspect…

Game Review, 2019: Towson

Links of interest:

Game story, The Post and Courier

Photo gallery, The Post and Courier

WCSC-TV game report (video)

School release

Game highlights (video)

Box score

Let’s look at some of the key stats:

The Citadel Towson
Field Position 21.78 (-15.2) 36.90 (+15.2)
Success Rate 54.05% 49.12%
Big plays (20+ yards) 1 6
Finishing drives** 4.00 5.25
Turnovers 3 1
Expected turnovers 1.72 2.10
Possessions 9 10
Points per possession** 2.33 3.11
Offensive Plays* 74 57
Yards/rush* (sacks taken out) 4.70 7.63
Yards/pass attempt (incl. sacks) 6.00 8.47
Yards/play* 4.77 8.19
3rd down conversions 11 of 17 (64.71%) 7 of 11 (63.64%)
4th down conversions 3 of 3 0 of 0
Red Zone TD% 3 for 4 (75%) 2 for 4 (50%)
Net punting 49.9 (2) 35.5 (2)
Time of possession 38:11:00 21:49:00
TOP/offensive play 30.96 seconds 22.19 seconds
Penalties 4 for 27 4 for 30
1st down passing 0/1, interception 10/13, 169 yards, 1 sack
3rd and long passing 1/1, 9 yards, TD 3/7, 34 yards
4th down passing 0/0 0/0
1st down yards/play 5.93 8.51
3rd down average yards to go 4.76 8.45
Defensive 3-and-outs+ 1 4

*kneeldowns not included in totals
**final drive for TU not included

I didn’t include the final drive for Towson in the ‘points per possession’ or ‘finishing drives’ categories because at that point in the game, Towson wasn’t trying to score, but rather keep the ball.

Some observations, based on the statistics above:

– Towson was not a particularly effective team on third down last season (38.86%). However, the Tigers were 7 for 11 on Saturday, including a stretch of four straight conversions during an 18-play drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth, taking up over seven minutes of game time.

Without that possession, The Citadel’s time-of-possession edge would have been even more lopsided. The Bulldogs’ inability to get off the field on that drive led to a TU field goal.

– The Citadel’s average yards to go on third down was excellent. If you take out the 3rd-and-23 play in the first quarter (that was the end result of the TD-negating chop block penalty), the average drops to 3.62. The Bulldogs had four 3rd-and-1 situations, and five 3rd-and-2 plays.

– The lack of big plays on offense for the Bulldogs was noticeable. Brent Thompson referenced it after the game, according to the game story in The Post and Courier. The Citadel needs to break more long gainers, as grinding out every drive for a score is not realistic (even in this offense).

A few of those big plays have to come via the pass.

– As far as the ‘expected turnovers’ go, The Citadel’s number is probably artificially low, because of the lack of passing. I’m just using the standard formula, but truthfully, I think the “real” expected turnovers for the Bulldogs was 2.50, not 1.72.

– Towson’s expected turnover total is based on the Bulldogs’ five pass breakups, which on average would have led to one interception — but while there were a couple of close calls, I can’t honestly say that The Citadel should have definitely had a pick.

– I suspect Thompson is going to be disappointed with the Bulldogs’ points per possession. The coach would undoubtedly prefer it be about a point higher, on average. (Well, he would really like it to be about 5 points higher on average, of course.)

– The field position edge for Towson was strictly a result of the turnovers.

Other thoughts, mostly random:

– There were not many penalties in the game — at least, called penalties. Towson got away with several false start infractions, as the officiating crew (yes, from the Southern Conference) were apparently unable to see a 6’4″, 360 lb. tackle move early. I guess he was easy to miss out there, being so little.

– It might have been a very different game if Chris Beverly had not forced a fumble near the goal line, with Towson poised to take a 24-7 lead. That was a big defensive play, and a badly needed one.

The Bulldogs probably needed one more play like that in order to win the contest.

– The sequence at the end of the first half was confusing. I went back and watched it on the ESPN+ video, and while the officials/timekeeper didn’t necessarily cover themselves in glory, I think Rob Ambrose might have second-guessed himself with his time management.

I did appreciate the timeout he called when The Citadel had the ball, just before the Bulldogs scored their second touchdown. That was intelligent, as it saved about 40 seconds for Towson’s offense.

However, I believe TU made two mistakes on the ensuing drive, one small, one large:

  • With two timeouts left, the Tigers probably should have called timeout after their first completion of the drive. It would have saved them about three seconds. Admittedly, this situation was messy, thanks to the clock having to be corrected — and that wasn’t the big mistake, anyway.
  • Towson apparently didn’t realize the clock was going to re-start after the first down pickup on the second completion. The receiver clearly didn’t go out of bounds before being tackled, though, and the Tigers lost eight seconds before calling timeout.

It is perhaps harder to argue that a second should be put back on the clock when there is a timeout sticking out of your back pocket.

– I liked the Bulldogs’ uniforms. The slightly elongated numerals were interesting, and I’m a fan of the Block C helmet logo.

It is true that, without an outline, the ‘C’ on the helmet and the jersey numerals could be hard to read in bright sunlight, and also in some of the longer-range TV shots. Still, the overall concept looked good.

– Forty-eight Bulldogs played in the contest. Five of them were “true” freshmen, including one starter — safety Andy Davis.

– The weather obviously put a damper on the attendance (announced at 8,008). On the other hand, it was almost as large a crowd as The Citadel had at Johnson Hagood Stadium for last season’s home opener (8,076), and larger than the home opener in 2017 (7,467).

– I thought the team ran out of the Altman Center and through the Block C a little too quickly. The timing with the smoke release was off. I guess the Bulldogs were really ready to play — either that, or perhaps there was an issue with trying to start the game on time.

As I mentioned on Twitter, I am disappointed in the loss, but not overly upset. It was ultimately a missed opportunity for The Citadel to pick up an impressive non-conference victory, but the season is still young.

One way to look at it: the Bulldogs were in the game and had a chance to win despite a turnover margin of -2, a penalty that wiped out a touchdown, not getting nearly enough pressure on the opposing quarterback, and only producing one big play on offense.

There were positives to be taken from the game, and there are certainly things that need improvement. Considering it was the opening week of the season, that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

It does make the upcoming game at Elon all the more important, though. That will be a tough game, too, but The Citadel needs to win one of these difficult non-conference matchups.

As usual, I took pictures. As usual, most of them are lousy. There is a lack of focus in some of them (others actually look decent, clearly an accident). The intermittent rain/drizzle didn’t help, not that it would have mattered.