2019 Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Furman

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at Paladin Stadium in Greenville, South Carolina, with kickoff at 1:00 pm ET on October 19, 2019.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3. Bob Mihalic will handle play-by-play, while Sam Wyche supplies the analysis.

It is also part of this week’s “ESPN College Extra” package, available on some cable/satellite systems. On DirecTV, the game will be broadcast on Channel 792.

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

Meet the Macdaddy

“Jeff’s Take” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

“Gameday Central” on The Citadel’s website

– Game preview on Furman’s website

– Preview from The Greenville News

– Brent Thompson’s weekly radio show (10/16)

– Brent Thompson’s weekly press conference (10/14)

– The Dogs:  Episode 8

There are two things fans going to the game definitely need to know. One is that Saturday is Furman’s Homecoming. The other, perhaps more momentous news: the Paladins are going to sell beer (and wine) at the stadium.

 

My thoughts on this are certainly not relevant to anyone, particularly Furman fans, since I am a graduate of The Citadel who doesn’t drink beer. Having said that, as this is my blog, I have a few observations.

  • “Patrons under 21 need to be accompanied by a parent” — surely this could have been worded better, unless they plan on serving any and all ‘patrons’, which would be problematic
  • Waiting until kickoff to start selling beer may not be a great idea, strictly on a logistics basis
  • You know selling beer at football games has become a full-fledged trend when Furman decides to start doing it

This appears to be a “soft opening”, as most (if not all) of the information surrounding the beer sales has originated from Twitter. Homecoming is either the ideal or worst time to debut this setup; I can’t decide which.

However, based on The Citadel’s experience selling beer at Johnson Hagood Stadium, I think the beer garden is a dubious proposition. If FU really wants to make money on selling beer (and wine), and also wants to use it as a way to bring people into the stadium who might otherwise not go to the game, then the school should simply sell it to folks sitting in the stands watching the game, just like any other concessions item.

Commit to the concept.

As for Furman’s attendance, which is almost certainly a factor in the decision to sell alcohol at football games, a quick review of the Paladins’ per-game attendance numbers since 2012.

  • 2012: 9,009*
  • 2013: 8,299
  • 2014: 7,229
  • 2015: 6,795*
  • 2016: 5,771
  • 2017: 7,775*
  • 2018: 6,139

*seasons in which The Citadel played at Paladin Stadium

The attendance for The Citadel’s 2015 game at Furman was 12,124. That is the largest attendance for any game at Paladin Stadium since 2011. The Bulldogs’ trip to Greenville in 2017 also produced the largest crowd for a Furman home game that season.

If you were wondering how Furman only averaged 6,795 fans per game in 2015 despite having 12,124 spectators show up for one of its five home matchups, the Paladins’ game against South Carolina State that season (a contest played in terrible weather conditions) had a total attendance of 1,022. Without even looking, I’m going to guess that is the lowest attendance in the history of Paladin Stadium.

At any rate, the decline in attendance for Furman over the last seven seasons is obviously of concern to its administration. Through three home games this year, Furman is averaging 6,281 fans. That number should increase following Saturday’s contest.

Brent Thompson confirmed on his Wednesday night radio show that Furman’s attendance numbers would be helped by an influx of about 450 freshman cadets. I was glad to hear that.

The Citadel has sent freshmen to several football games in recent years, a welcome development indeed. In the last five seasons, cadets have been bused to games at Wofford, Chattanooga, VMI, and (earlier this year) Georgia Tech.

A planned excursion to Samford in 2017 was scuttled by one of the now-annual hurricane evacuations, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a trip to Birmingham in the next few years. Next season, Mercer could easily be on the agenda, along with a repeat journey to Wofford or VMI.

I believe this will be the third consecutive time The Citadel has sent cadets to Greenville for the Furman game.

Okay, let’s talk about “rivalries” for a moment. This is the part of the post where I probably make a lot of people mad, but so be it.

Let me say up front that these are just my opinions, I know they are just my opinions, and I’m undoubtedly a terrible person for having these opinions.

From Jeff Hartsell’s column earlier this week:

Does The Citadel have too many rivalry games?

During my weekly chat with former Citadel offensive lineman Kyle Weaver (esteemed host of The Citadel Grayline), I asked Kyle to rank the Bulldogs’ various rivals in football. Weaver, who played on The Citadel’s Southern Conference championship teams in 2015 and 2016, went with Wofford, Charleston Southern, Furman and VMI in roughly that order. Ask another Bulldog, and you might get the same four teams in a different order.

I think it is possible that if you asked any other graduate of The Citadel, you would not get the order Weaver listed. Not that he doesn’t have a right to his opinion – after all, he’s an alum, and he wore the uniform of both a cadet and a football player.

That said, I could not disagree with him more.

First, to be fair, I don’t really think a school can have “too many rivalry games”. It certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt Auburn or LSU. Besides, a team should treat every game it plays like it is a rivalry game anyway.

As far as The Citadel is concerned, the school has two traditional rivals in football – Furman and VMI.

Those two schools have a long history with The Citadel; for Furman, there is also geographic proximity, while VMI is a fellow military college with a similar mission. The three institutions have also been in the SoCon together since 1935 (excepting VMI’s decade-long stay in the Big South).

You can rank them 1A and 1B, with the order generally dependent on an individual alum’s background and/or age.

Wofford’s series with The Citadel is also a lengthy one, but for much of that span the two schools were not in the same NCAA division, much less the same conference. There was also a significant period of time (between 1959 and 1975) in which they only faced each other once. That is essentially an entire generation of games not played.

(Of course, Texas and Texas A&M might currently be testing the “skip a generation” thesis.)

If there is such a thing as a “secondary rivalry”, Wofford and The Citadel might qualify. The two schools are now both in the SoCon, but that wasn’t the case when at least two-thirds of living graduates of The Citadel were in college. In fact, through the 1991 season, The Citadel had actually played Presbyterian 16 more times.

This is an issue. When it comes to Bulldog opponents, Wofford is still associated in some people’s memories with PC and Newberry. That perceived grouping isn’t true anymore, to be sure, but the mental affiliation remains a factor.

However, the more recent history is also why I can understand how a younger graduate, particularly a football player, might have a different perspective. I completely respect that.

(A more intriguing question might be this one: is Wofford a rival of Furman?)

When it comes to Charleston Southern, though, few alumni of The Citadel consider that to be a rivalry of any kind.

I’ve used this analogy before, but it still applies: at most county fairs, there is a guy in a ‘dunk tank’ who insults people, hoping they will spend money on baseballs to throw at him. That basically describes Jamey Chadwell’s efforts at CSU in trying to develop a rivalry between the two schools.

Was he aided by certain members of the local media? Sure, to the point where it was almost embarrassing (“inner-city rivalry”). Was he tacitly supported by the CSU administration? Yes (on that issue; perhaps not on others).

Did he/they succeed? Well, no. There was no chance of that happening, really.

A natural rivalry has to develop organically. Schools with little in common and no real history (which is the case for The Citadel and Charleston Southern) are a lot less likely to develop a rivalry.

Ultimately, there has to be interest on both sides. In the case of The Citadel and CSU, I’m not convinced there is much interest on either side. If you doubt that, take a closer look at attendance figures.

Anderson University announced two weeks ago that it was starting a football program. In five years or so, I fully expect someone to claim Anderson and Furman (or Wofford) are “big rivals”.

As for The Citadel, I’m sure Erskine is next on deck in the rivalry sweepstakes…

Furman statistics of note (six games):

Furman Opponents
Points Per Game 37.50 19.83
Rush Attempts (sacks taken out) 269 207
Yards per rush (sacks taken out) 6.90 5.34
Att-Comp-Int 108-64-4 194-130-6
Yards/pass attempt (sacks included) 7.85 5.35
Total Plays 387 413
Yards per play 7.19 5.35
Total punts 21 32
Punting Net Average 43.19 38.88
Penalties-Yards 25-231 33-242
Penalty yards per game 38.50 40.33
Time of Possession per game 32:14 27:46
Offensive plays per second 29.98 sec 24.20 sec
3rd Down Conversions 36-72 (50.00%) 34-82 (41.46%)
4th Down Conversions 3-5 (60.00%) 3-6 (50.00%)
Fumbles-Lost 8-4 10-5
Sacks-Yards Lost 12-59 10-67
Red Zone: Touchdowns 20/23 (87%) 12/20 (60%)
Turnover Margin 3 -3
Run play % (sacks are pass plays) 69.50% 50.12%

What follows are mostly random musings on the stats above, referencing the FCS national statistical rankings when appropriate.

One thing to keep in mind: two of Furman’s six games, and both of its losses, came against FBS competition (Georgia State and Virginia Tech). FU lost those two games by a total of 13 points — and frankly got jobbed on a terrible replay call against the Hokies, preventing a potential comeback.

The Paladins have triumphed over Charleston Southern (an easy win in the season opener), East Tennessee State (a tough defensive struggle), Mercer (a blowout victory at home), and Samford (a blowout victory on the road).

– Furman’s offense is second in all of FCS in both Red Zone scoring rate (a slightly overrated stat) and Red Zone TD rate (a very important stat). Only North Dakota State has a higher scoring rate in the Red Zone. The only team with a better TD rate in the Red Zone than the Paladins? North Dakota.

The Citadel’s offense is 30th nationally in Red Zone TD rate (72%). That ranks 2nd in the SoCon. Chattanooga (54%) has the lowest rate in the league (though that isn’t close to the dregs of the sub-division).

– The Paladins are 3rd in offensive yards per play, trailing only Kennesaw State and North Dakota State. The Bulldogs are in the bottom 20 in this statistic.

– Furman is 10th in offensive third down conversion rate (and also leads the SoCon, ahead of 13th-ranked Wofford). The Citadel is 54th.

– The Paladins are tied for 31st in turnover margin per game. The Citadel is tied for 57th.

VMI is 10th nationally, best in the league. Three conference squads (Mercer, Samford, and Western Carolina) are in the bottom 15.

– FU is 16th in time of possession. The Citadel is 2nd (just behind Yale; Wofford is 3rd).

Samford is last, but you knew that already. What you may not have known is that Mercer is next-to-last.

– After accounting for sacks, Furman’s defense allows almost the exact same yards per play on rushes as it does on pass attempts. It is uncanny.

That defensive yards per play allowed number is 40th-best nationally, second in the SoCon (behind ETSU). Princeton leads the category nationally, but has played fewer games against decidedly lesser competition than every other team in the top 50 save its fellow Ivy League schools.

The rest of the top five: Sam Houston State, Georgetown (this is the second year in a row the Hoyas have put up excellent defensive numbers), Kennesaw State, and South Dakota State.

The Citadel is in the bottom 30 in defensive yards allowed per play. Charleston Southern, a team both The Citadel and Furman have played, is fourth-worst in FCS, allowing just over seven yards per play.

– Furman is 2nd nationally in net punting. The Citadel is 7th, and may get its regular punter (Matthew Campbell) back this week. Gage Russell has done a fine job in Campbell’s absence, however.

– I was surprised that Furman’s opponents have only attempted six fourth-down conversions through six games.

As I noted in my review of the Western Carolina game, The Citadel is 15 for 21 (71.4%) converting 4th downs this year, ranking among the FCS leaders in both attempts (tied for 4th nationally) and conversions (3rd). Among teams with 10+ tries on fourth down, the Bulldogs are 4th in conversion percentage.

Furman starting quarterback Darren Grainger (6’4″, 195 lbs.) is a redshirt freshman from Conway who is having an excellent year for the Paladins. For the season, he is completing 59.6% of his passes, averaging 9.84 yards per attempt (not accounting for sacks), with 11 TD throws against just two interceptions.

Grainger also averages a little over nine rushing attempts per game (with a long of 33 yards). He has four rushing TDs. Last season, he played in four games for Furman, but did not see the field against The Citadel.

Running back Devin Wynn (6’0″, 203 lbs.), a junior from Greensboro, Georgia, is averaging 8.4 yards per carry this season. He had 217 rushing yards against Samford, and added a 61-yard TD reception just for good measure. Last season against the Bulldogs, Wynn had 86 rushing yards on just nine attempts.

Wynn, who also returns kicks for Furman, was a preseason second-team All-SoCon selection, as was wideout Thomas Gordon (6’0″, 178 lbs.). The senior from Charlotte leads the Paladins in receptions with 24, four of which have gone for touchdowns. He is averaging almost 17 yards per catch.

By sacred rule, I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who traditionally runs wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during any game against The Citadel, no matter who he is. This year, he is sophomore Ryan Miller (6’4″, 214 lbs.), who has TD receptions of 41 and 32 yards this season.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 292 lbs. The line has a lot of experience, although there does appear to be some question as to who will start at center.

Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 302 lbs.) is a redshirt junior who has also played center and tackle for the Paladins during his career. The native of Roswell, Georgia has made 28 starts during his career.

Lining up next to Kroeber is left tackle Bo Layton (6’7″, 287 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Knoxville who was a first-team all-SoCon pick after last season. The other starting tackle, Andy Godwin (6’4″, 283 lbs.) was a preseason second team all-conference pick. Godwin is a redshirt senior from Neptune Beach, Florida.

The player who lines up at noseguard is often an important factor in how a team defends the triple option. Furman’s starter at that position is mobile fire hydrant Taylor Hodge (5’9″, 255 lbs.). The sophomore has four starts this season. (Yes, I triple-checked the height/weight line.)

The Paladins’ defense is keyed by its linebackers. Senior “spur” Jordan Willis (6’0″, 207 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, and is second in tackles for loss. Willis had 11 stops in last year’s game versus The Citadel.

Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) had 15 sacks last season (including one against the Bulldogs) despite not starting a game. As a result, he was a first-team all-conference choice, and not surprisingly the sophomore from Ocala, Florida was a preseason first team all-league pick this year.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.), a junior from Rome, Georgia, was a preseason second-team all-SoCon pick.

Despite being third on the team in tackles so far this season, McKoy is actually listed as a backup on the two-deep at middle linebacker, behind Braden Gilby (6’2″, 233 lbs.). Gilby, a redshirt freshman from St. Petersburg (not the one in Russia), ranks second in tackles for the Paladins.

Free safety Bryan Okeh (6’4″, 216 lbs.) has the most starts of any Paladin defender (31). The senior from Powder Springs, Georgia intercepted his first career pass earlier this season against Mercer.

Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 188 lbs.), a junior from Inman, has made 16 consecutive field goals, a streak that dates back to last season. His career long is 53 yards. He was last season’s all-conference placekicker.

Atkins is also Furman’s punter and kickoff specialist. He is very good at those roles, too (some may remember his 81-yard punt against The Citadel last year). Matthew Campbell and Atkins are the two best punters in the league.

Furman’s primary punt returner is starting cornerback Amir Trapp (5’10”, 170 lbs.). Trapp, who began his college career at Clemson, is the son of former Tiger (and NFL defensive back/Olympic gold medalist) James Trapp.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Greenville, per the National Weather Service: a 30%-60% chance of rain, with a high of 64 degrees. There is a 70% chance of showers in the evening.

The possibility of rain during the game has steadily increased over the course of the week (and the anticipated high temperature has fallen as well).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is an 18-point favorite over The Citadel. The over/under is 53 1/2.

Through seven games, The Citadel is 2-5 ATS, with the over hitting twice.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams: Chattanooga is a 3 1/2 point favorite over East Tennessee State in a Thursday night game; Wofford is a 24 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina; and Mercer is a 1 1/2 point favorite over VMI. Samford is off this week.

In games between FCS schools, the biggest spread is 40, with North Dakota State the favorite over Missouri State. Also of note: Kennesaw State is a 37 1/2 point road favorite over Presbyterian.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. The Paladins are 15th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 16% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 17.

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

Other rankings this week of varied interest: Villanova is 10th, Idaho State 12th, Kennesaw State 16th, Central Arkansas 20th, North Carolina A&T 24th, Elon 28th, Towson 31st, Incarnate Word 35th, Central Connecticut State 38th, Jacksonville State 44th, Wofford 47th, McNeese State 50th, Florida A&M 54th, Richmond 56th, Chattanooga 59th, William & Mary 60th, Samford 62nd, VMI 68th, Columbia 72nd, East Tennessee State 78th, South Carolina State 83rd, Campbell 85th, Charleston Southern 91st, Mercer 93rd, Gardner-Webb 94th, Davidson 97th, Lafayette 104th, Western Carolina 111th, LIU 117th, Jacksonville 122nd, and Presbyterian 126th (last).

– Furman’s notable alumni include Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart, physicist Charles Townes, and journalist Eleanor Beardsley.

– Future non-conference FBS opponents for Furman include Tennessee (in 2020), North Carolina State (2021), Clemson (2022 and 2025), South Carolina (2023), and Mississippi (2024). The Paladins also have home-and-home series scheduled with Colgate and North Carolina A&T, and play at Kennesaw State in 2023 (I believe that is the return game for a 2016 matchup).

– Furman’s roster includes 34 players from the state of Georgia. Other states represented: South Carolina (18 players), Florida (12), North Carolina (10), Tennessee (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (2), Texas (2), Virginia (2), and one each from California and Illinois.

The 18 Palmetto State products on the Paladins’ squad represent 16 different high schools, with two each from Southside Christian (in Simpsonville) and St. Joseph’s (Greenville).

However, in what can only be described as a colossal error in recruiting, none of the Paladins are from legendary mega-gridiron superpower Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. The hopes of Furman’s football program, whether modest or monstrous, will be forever doomed if Clay Hendrix and the rest of his coaching staff continues to ignore the incredible talents who wear 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 almost exactly the same as the depth chart from last week. The only change is that Clay Harris (now presumably healthy) is again listed as the projected starter at B-back.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 4-10 for games played on October 19. Among the highlights from past contests:

  • 1912: The Bulldogs edged Porter Military Academy, 66-0. C.D. Gibson and Billy Folger each scored three touchdowns for The Citadel. I’ve written about this one before. The reporter covering the game for The News and Courier wrote that Porter was “plucky” and claimed the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. There is no telling what he would have said if the contest had actually been close. The paper also ran an advertisement for castor oil with the tag line “Children like it — it does ’em good”, so there was clearly a severe lack of editorial control at the local newspaper during this era.
  • 1957: On a chilly evening at Johnson Hagood Stadium, an estimated 11,000 spectators watched The Citadel shut out Richmond, 26-0. Bobby Schwarze threw three TD passes, two to Paul Maguire and one to Joe Chefalo. Fullback Ed Dzanis scored the other TD on a one-yard run. Dzanis also intercepted a pass, as did Barry Thomas (who led the Bulldogs in rushing, with 85 yards on eight carries).
  • 1963: The Citadel prevailed over Arkansas State, 10-9. Pat Green’s 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play proved decisive. Arkansas State had taken the lead with 36 seconds to play, but four completed passes from Wade St. John (three to Wes Matthews, one to Vince Petno) set up Green’s heroics. The Bulldogs’ lone TD came on a 72-yard run by Converse Chellis, aided by a block from Joe Missar.
  • 1968: The Bulldogs won a Parents’ Day affair over VMI, 13-8. Tony Passander threw for one TD and ran for the other. The touchdown pass was an 80-yarder to Tom Sanchez, and was at the time the longest in school history. The Citadel’s defense forced three turnovers — a pass interception by Billy Watson and fumble recoveries by Eddie Watkins and Joe Isaac.

This will not be an easy game for The Citadel. Furman is probably the SoCon’s best team (and has certainly performed in that manner to this point in the season). The Bulldogs surely feel better about themselves after a solid victory over Western Carolina, but the Paladins present a far more imposing challenge.

However, it isn’t an impossible task. The Citadel has to play near its best, but the Bulldogs don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be outstanding.

I think a big key to the game is for The Citadel to control the clock on offense and avoid an early turnover. If the weather becomes a factor, as increasingly appears to be the case, ball security is paramount (even more so than usual).

Defensively, the Bulldogs must prevent big plays (occasionally a problem this season for The Citadel) and take advantage of any Paladin mistakes, as there aren’t likely to be many. Finding a way to put pressure on Grainger, a mobile QB protected by a fine offensive line, will be very difficult. It will also be necessary.

If the Bulldogs’ special teams could pull off a couple of game-changing plays, that would be very handy as well.

Are all of those points obvious? Yes. Then again, football is frequently obvious.

I hope the Bulldogs play well on Saturday. I also think they will.

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.