Game Review, 2012: VMI

The Citadel 27, VMI 24.

Links of interest:

Game story, The Roanoke Times

Game story, The Post and Courier 

Note: both articles above written by Randy King of The Roanoke Times

The Citadel’s release

VMI’s release

Highlights from the game (video)

VMI postgame press conference with Sparky Woods and two players (video)

Box score

Uh, phew…

For the second week in a row, The Citadel built up a big lead only to see its opponent mount a furious comeback. For the second week in a row, the Bulldogs held on.

I don’t think anyone was truly surprised when Elon finally began scoring points in the second half of last week’s game. However, VMI should have been put away midway through the third quarter. The fact that the Keydets were one drive away from a miraculous victory is worrisome.

After Derek Douglas rumbled into the end zone with a fumble (following a sack by Mark Thomas), it was hard to imagine VMI doing much of anything in response. Not that anyone expected the Keydets to quit, but as it happens the Bulldogs helped VMI make its move.

Special teams were less than special. The Citadel should have had a sizable edge in this department, given the performances of the two teams’ kicking units during the season, but that wasn’t the case. The kickoff coverage for the Bulldogs was unacceptable, and there was also a blocked field goal attempt.

Sparky Woods said after the game that The Citadel “played better in the kicking game” than VMI, but I can’t say that I agree with him.

Then there were the penalties. I was concerned about the tendency of VMI’s opponents to commit more than their typical number of infractions, but the Bulldogs outdid themselves in a negative way, committing nine fouls for 89 yards. Seven of those penalties (and 79 of the 89 total yards) came in the second half and helped enable the Keydet comeback.

I wasn’t all that surprised VMI had some success defensively against The Citadel. I thought going into the game that the Keydet D was a bit underrated, and basically hamstrung by an ineffective offense.

However, the Bulldogs’ defense was disappointing, particularly in the second half. VMI does not have a big-play offense, but The Citadel allowed two huge pass plays (81 and 38 yards) to the Keydets that set up touchdowns.

The fumble return by Douglas was critical, and Sparky Woods has to be very tired of guys named Douglas making plays for The Citadel against his teams. However, don’t overlook Thomas Warren’s second made field goal, which pushed the margin to ten points with less than five minutes to play. The Bulldogs needed those three points.

That field goal came after The Citadel started on its own 49, a short field gifted to the Bulldogs by a “pop-up” kick that went awry. Woods said that it wasn’t really an onside kick attempt, but a placement-type kick that just wasn’t properly executed.

I questioned the play-calling (or simply the act of calling plays) at the end of the Western Carolina game. I’m going to do it again…

Aaron Miller picked up a first down for The Citadel with 2:42 remaining in the game. VMI was by then out of timeouts.

At that point, the Bulldogs could have lined up in “Victory Formation” and kneeled down three times. The clock would have run out, and The Citadel would have the victory.

However, three running plays were called instead, including two handoffs. I suppose the first down play (on which Miller kept for a four-yard loss) could be justified as ensuring the Bulldogs could run out the clock. It would have been close, though I think a run wasn’t necessary.

However, on second and third down it was clear that a kneeldown would do the trick. By that third down play, I was — well, I was upset, to be honest. I could just visualize a Joe Pisarcik-Herm Edwards situation that would be fondly remembered by Keydet fans for decades.

That didn’t happen, but it shouldn’t have been left to chance. It was the second time this season The Citadel had not properly managed the end of the game. If that keeps up, the Bulldogs will eventually get burned.

I’m not trying to be negative. After all, the Bulldogs clinched a winning season, which was the primary goal going into the 2012 campaign. The Citadel remains alive for a playoff berth, but realistically that isn’t going to happen. That’s okay, though. Beating Furman to finish 7-4 would be more than good enough for me.

It was nice to hear VMI’s band play on a regular basis during the game, as opposed to the game at Wofford (which has no band) and the games at Johnson Hagood Stadium (where the band is only occasionally allowed to play). However, someone needs to tell the band when to stop. For one thing, I think a VMI false start penalty in the second quarter could be largely attributed to the band playing as the Keydets were about to snap the ball.

I enjoyed the day in Lexington. The weather was great, and the gameday atmosphere was solid. Plenty of blue-clad supporters were on hand to cheer on the Bulldogs, coming close to filling the (admittedly small) visitors’ section of Foster Stadium.

The home side was mostly full too, a tribute to a very loyal VMI fan base. Some of those same fans traveled to Charleston for last year’s game between the two teams. They were part of arguably the most impressive (on a per capita basis, at least) group of visiting supporters, especially striking given VMI’s way-too-long stretch of gridiron futility.

Those fans deserve a winning season sooner than later, and I hope they get one. Of course, I don’t want it to come at The Citadel’s expense. I prefer that the coveted Silver Shako remain in Charleston, where it belongs.

Pictures…well, every week I write about what a lame-o photographer I am, but I may have set a new standard for ineptitude this week. What follows is the best of a sorry lot.

I took a lot of pictures of the campus and the Saturday parade. VMI is an interesting place. I firmly believe every graduate of The Citadel needs to visit VMI at least once, and vice versa.

Included are a few pictures from the lacrosse match that took place on Saturday, which raised $3,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Great job by those guys (not for the first time, either).

I also watched the women’s rugby game for a short time, which more than matched the football game for sheer brutality. There are a few pictures in the set from that contest, as well as the halftime Rugby 7s exhibition.

Besides the “action” shots at the football game, there are pictures of the marchover.

Game review, 2012: Georgia Southern

The Citadel 23, Georgia Southern 21.

Links of interest (lots of video from this one):

Game story in The Post and Courier

Photo gallery from The Post and Courier

Kevin Higgins’ postgame locker room speech

Postgame press conference (The Citadel) video

The Citadel’s release

Photos from The Citadel’s website

Box score

Video from WCSC-TV of Charleston

Video from The Statesboro Herald

Game story in the Savannah Morning News

Video from WJCL-TV of Savannah

Postgame with GSU coach Jeff Monken (you can feel his anger coming through your computer screen)

YouTube clips from the point of view of The Citadel band (including a performance of the classic standard for a football postgame sendoff, Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep”)

I talked a little bit about perspective in last week’s game recap. Sometimes, perspective can be dramatically affected by one late made or missed field goal. This game, of course, had both. Can you say rollercoaster?

After it was over, someone who had not seen the game asked me what I thought was a fair question: were the Bulldogs really that good? Or were they lucky?

Well, luck plays a role in almost any close contest, both good and bad. However, my answer was The Citadel was that good last night. It was not a fluke. The basic statistics don’t quite reflect it (Georgia Southern had 111 more yards of total offense than The Citadel), but the Bulldogs were the better team last night and deserved the victory. They weren’t better by a lot, but by enough. Just enough.

The first half was where GSU piled up its advantage in total offense, but when the dust cleared, The Citadel led 17-14 anyway. The Bulldogs struggled to tackle Eagles B-back Dominique Swope; much of his first-half rushing yardage came after contact.

Swope was very impressive, although his early fumble set up the Bulldogs’ first score. The Citadel took full advantage of the turnover, with its touchdown coming on a fourth-and-one toss sweep to Rickey Anderson (a great call by offensive coordinator Bob Bodine).

Two plays later, GSU fumbled again on an ill-advised pitch by Eagles starting quarterback Ezayi Youyoute. The Citadel faced a third-and-long, but Ben Dupree made a play, scrambling away from GSU defenders long enough to float a well-thrown ball to Domonic Jones for a TD. It was the first touchdown pass thrown by a Bulldog quarterback since Matt Thompson threw three touchdown passes in the 2010 season opener against Chowan.

Other than the two touchdown drives, The Citadel struggled offensively through much of the first half, thanks in no small part to GSU defensive tackle Brent Russell, who was outstanding all night long. However, when presented with opportunities, the Bulldogs offense capitalized. That is what matters. It’s about scoring points.

Georgia Southern’s offense piled up the yardage on three long drives following its two turnovers, with Swope getting the bulk of the work, and the Eagles scored touchdowns on two of them. A late field goal attempt by GSU to close the half was blocked by Domonic Jones (who certainly made his presence felt in this game).

That field goal would have matched a 42-yard kick made earlier by Thomas Warren following a 40-yard Bulldogs drive. The key play on that series was a 26-yard pass from Aaron Miller to Van Dyke Jones on a second-and-14, one of several long-yardage situations during the game that were successfully converted into first downs by The Citadel.

The coaching staff at The Citadel has to be credited with making solid halftime adjustments. Georgia Southern picked up two quick first downs to begin the second half, but then its offense hit a wall. The Citadel’s defense would force three consecutive three-and-outs before GSU would finally get untracked. By then the Bulldogs led 20-14 after another Warren field goal, this one made in a driving rain that lasted for much of the third quarter.

I was afraid that destiny was not shining on The Citadel after the critical play of GSU’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive. On fourth-and-six, the Eagles ran an option play where Youyoute handed the ball to fellow quarterback/occasional slotback Jerick McKinnon, who then attempted to pitch the ball.

It was a play GSU had run before in the game with some success, but this time Bulldogs cornerback Brandon McCladdie read it perfectly and anticipated the pitch, batting it into the air…where it landed in the arms of McKinnon, who turned around and ran against the grain for seven yards and a first down. Oof.

The next play would result in a Youyoute fumble, but officials ruled GSU recovered, and the Eagles would eventually score on the drive to take a 21-20 lead with a little over three minutes remaining.

The ensuing drive for the Bulldogs got off to a stuttering start, but on fourth-and-three Miller attempted a pass to Matt Thompson. GSU defensive back Lavelle Westbrooks was called for pass interference, keeping the drive alive.

In his game story in The Post and Courier, Jeff Hartsell referred to the penalty as being “iffy”, but I strongly disagree with that assessment. The play happened right in front of me. The only way you could argue it wasn’t interference is by saying the ball was uncatchable, but it was close, and the benefit of the doubt is usually given (rightfully so) to the offense in that situation. Also, Westbrooks had been forced to grab Thompson after Miller had scrambled to his right. If you didn’t think it was pass interference, it was certainly defensive  holding.

At any rate, GSU then got the benefit of a non-call, as on the next play Brent Russell anticipated the snap count a fraction too early and moved into the neutral zone before the snap. It wasn’t called, however, and he wound up blowing up the play and putting the Bulldogs into another long-yardage situation. After an incomplete pass on second down, Russell sabotaged yet another play on third down (Russell’s nickname is apparently “ManBearPig”, which seems appropriate).

That led to a fourth-and-15 which the Bulldogs converted, Miller throwing to Greg Adams, who ran a great route. Three plays later Thomas Warren made his third field goal of the day, a 37-yarder that proved to be the game-winner.

If you are a fan of The Citadel, you are probably thinking that you haven’t seen the Bulldogs prevail on a late field goal too often, at least in recent years. You would be correct. I looked this up, and I could have missed one someplace, but I think this is the list:

— Field goal made late in the fourth quarter to force a tie (and OT): Mike Adams versus Furman, 2007. This was the crazy 54-51 game, of course. The Bulldogs made a huge rally to force OT, winning on a TD run by Tory Cooper. Before that could happen, though, Adams had to make a 32-yarder with 1:19 remaining to tie the game at 48.

— Field goal made late in the fourth quarter to win a game that was tied: Travis Zobel versus Appalachian State, 2003. The Citadel tied the game late on a 44-yard run by Scooter Johnson (that had been preceded by a fake punt executed by Zobel). After an interception, Zobel connected on a 26-yarder with 1:16 remaining to give the Bulldogs a 24-21 victory.

— Field goal made late in the fourth quarter to win a game that The Citadel was trailing: Nick Haas versus Hofstra, 1998. Haas made a 32-yarder with six seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 32-30 victory. The winning kick was set up by Carlos Frank’s 37-yard run off a reverse.

So, yeah, it had been a while. For the specific circumstance Warren found himself in, fourteen years.

It almost didn’t work out, though, after J.J. Wilcox’s great return (he broke multiple tackles) set up Georgia Southern in Bulldogs territory. The Eagles almost fumbled it away late, but recovered, and things looked grim for The Citadel as GSU prepared for a 31-yard field goal attempt.

Even though they had time, though, the Eagles seemed a bit rushed to me as they got set up for the kick. There were actually a lot of things going against GSU. The earlier blocked FG attempt had to be in the thoughts of the players, and the two preceding Georgia Southern kickoffs (by a different kicker than the FG kicker) had been hooked out of bounds, with the second one almost landing in the home side stands.

The weather wasn’t conducive to placekicking, either, which made Warren’s kick (and the snap/hold) all the more impressive. For GSU, it wasn’t meant to be. The snap was very high. The holder barely got it down, and the timing for the kick was thrown off. Not surprisingly, the kick was hooked wide left.

Odds and ends:

– Besides doing a fine job holding on placekicks, Cass Couey continued to demonstrate why he is the SoCon’s best punter, averaging 47.2 yards on his four punts, with no return yardage. He can really boom ’em.

– In what is probably a testament to Brent Russell’s play as much as anything, The Citadel never established the B-back. Darien Robinson carried four times for eight yards, and that was it.

– The Citadel’s 253 yards of total offense were the fewest for the Bulldogs against a SoCon opponent since the 2010 season finale against Samford. The Citadel won that game, too.

– Georgia Southern’s offense had nine plays of at least 19 yards last week against Jacksonville. On Saturday, GSU had only one such play, a 23-yard run by Youyoute. That was a major accomplishment for the Bulldogs’ D.

– The Citadel had four illegal formation penalties on kickoffs. I don’t know what the problem was, but it’s something that needs to get cleaned up before next week.

– Attendance for the game: only 12,299. Ouch. I wasn’t expecting that. It can be explained to a large degree by the weather, as the local area was under the gun for potential thunderstorms (and generally heavy rain) for most of the afternoon.

The other point worth making is that Georgia Southern’s fan base did not show up in large numbers for the game, despite the pleas of head coach Jeff Monken. I think it’s probably time to put an end to any discussion about GSU’s fans “travelling” well to away games.

I’ve seen talk in various places (message boards, etc.) about this, but all I know is that the historical record suggests they have never been a major factor at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and if they aren’t going to make the short trip to Charleston, I find it hard to believe they are regularly going to Boone/Greenville/Spartanburg in overwhelming numbers either.

On Saturday, GSU brought about as many fans to the game as Charleston Southern had done the week before. The Eagle supporters who did attend were appropriately vocal, which is to their credit. Those were good fans. There just weren’t that many of them.

– I’m not going to complain too much about the all-navy uniforms, although I don’t like them at all. However, I really wish we wouldn’t wear navy unis at home when we’re playing opponents that have navy as their primary color.

Now the Bulldogs are 2-0 and know that they won’t be worse than 2-2 when they return to Johnson Hagood Stadium in three weeks to play Chattanooga. The road trips to Appalachian State and North Carolina State are going to be difficult, but there will be a renewed sense of confidence for the players and coaches as they get ready for those games. They won’t be thinking about being 2-2 after four games; no, they will be shooting for 3-1 or 4-0.

Saturday’s win over Georgia Southern was great, the biggest in Kevin Higgins’ tenure. What’s really good about it, though, is that The Citadel still has considerable room for improvement. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. The Bulldogs committed too many penalties, didn’t run the ball effectively on the ground (3.8 yards per carry), fumbled twice, and had trouble at times defensively bringing down Georgia Southern ballcarriers.

In other words, this team can get better — and if Saturday’s game is any indication, it’s already pretty good.

On to Boone, at least for the team. I won’t be there, as I will be travelling. The next two or three weeks, actually, are going to be busy for me, so there won’t be posts as long as this one, assuming anyone is still reading this post…

I took a bunch of pictures. Most of them weren’t very good, but then I’m not a good photographer. I tried to take a lot of pregame stuff, both around the stadium and field.