Football, Game 8: The Citadel vs. Georgia Southern

The Bulldogs return to Johnson Hagood Stadium for a 1:00 pm ET game against the Eagles.  First, though, a few thoughts on the Appalachian State game, since I didn’t post a review of that contest.

First, I heard the final score — 39-10.  I later read that during the game, The Citadel:

Did not complete a pass (the first time the Bulldogs had failed to do that in 15 years)

— Committed two turnovers, one fumble and one interception

— Botched two punt snaps, the second of which led to punter Cass Couey leaving the game with an injury

— Lost the battle of time of possession, despite 53 rush attempts (in 59 total plays)

— Only averaged 18.2 yards per kickoff return

— Missed out on a defensive turnover thanks to a pass interference penalty

— Allowed TD receptions of 65 and 73 yards

Lost one of its experienced playmakers, running back Van Dyke Jones, with what was later determined to be an ACL injury; Jones’ career highlight, of course, was a 69-yard run against the Mountaineers in last year’s meeting

All of that came on the road, against the #1 ranked team in FCS football.  So how exactly did The Citadel only lose by 29 points?

Well, App State dialed it down some in the fourth quarter, but there were some positives for the Bulldogs, looking at the stat sheet:

— First, full credit to backup punter Alexander Wall for doing a nice job on short notice; he averaged 42.2 yards per punt and only allowed 10 total return yards

— While Matt Thompson started, Sam Martin did play and saw significant time, so his injury from last week apparently wasn’t serious

— The aforementioned PI aside, the Bulldogs only committed five penalties

— The Bulldog D did force two turnovers that counted, including a fumble that was returned 40 yards by Eric Clanton, setting up the game’s first score; a later interception by Brandon McCladdie was the first pick by an App State opponent this season

— The defense, despite giving up two big pass plays, allowed less than 400 yards of total offense, which against App State (and considering it was on the field longer than normal) wasn’t too bad

— App State was only 5-14 on third down conversions

— The Citadel blocked not one but two PATs

Okay, so maybe I had to stretch to come up with some of those positives, but I guess my final analysis of the game would go something like this:  it could have been worse. Hey, the Mountaineers are ranked #1; the Bulldogs are not.  It was never going to be a game for The Citadel to use in measuring its progress this season.

On the other hand, Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern is such a game.

Prior to this season, Jeff Monken had spent the past 13 years as an assistant for Paul Johnson at three different schools — Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. (Monken was also a grad assistant at Hawai’i when Johnson was the offensive coordinator there.)  He was hired by GSU to restore the triple option, and with it the glory days of Eagle football.

Perhaps the difference in expectations for the football programs at Georgia Southern and The Citadel can be summed up by this Monken quote:

“Who cares about transition years?  Nobody cares about that.  We want to win. I want to win, our fans want to win, our kids want to win. Nobody wants to hear about transition, or we’re young, or we’re learning. That’s a bunch of talk.

When you play a football game, you play to win. My expectation is the same for this season as it is for every season, and that’s to try and win every game. That’s what I expect.”

Contrast that with The Citadel, where most (although by no means all) fans are content to allow Kevin Higgins a “transition year” in the sixth season of his tenure at the military college.  Of course, Monken knows that he has a little more leeway than what he expressed in the above quote.  Georgia Southern fans aren’t expecting him to compete for the national title this year.

Next year, though, is a different story…

There are also those GSU supporters who aren’t that interested in the FCS national crown, because they would rather see the program move up to FBS land.  I think that would be a mistake, at least as things are currently constituted in the two sub-divisions.  I wrote about this last year, when GSU released its study on the issue.

Of course, now Appalachian State has decided it’s also going to study the pros and cons of making the move.  It’s prudent to assess the landscape of college football, and I don’t blame either school for investigating their options.  It’s my opinion, though, that unless there are major alterations in the world of FCS (or FBS), staying put is the way to go for the folks in Boone and Statesboro.

Georgia Southern is 3-3, 1-2 in the SoCon.  It looked for a while like Monken was ahead of schedule, for going into the game against Wofford the Eagles were 3-1 and ranked in the FCS Coaches Poll.  However, a home loss to the Terriers was followed by last week’s setback at Chattanooga, and it’s clear that it’s not yet smooth sailing for GSU in conference play.

The biggest advantage Georgia Southern has had over The Citadel in re-instituting the triple option has been at quarterback, where the Eagles can rely on Georgia Tech transfer Jaybo Shaw, who not only ran the offense at Tech, but also ran it in high school.  He’s not an explosive runner, but he can make all the reads and can also throw the ball fairly well (10.3 yards per pass attempt; 4 TDs, no INTs).

GSU is averaging 4.9 yards per rush.  J.J. Wilcox is a solid slotback who can also catch the ball (his eleven receptions leads the team).  Robert Brown is a freshman fullback who actually leads the Eagles in rushing, but he’s been hurt.  There is no Adrian Peterson (GSU version, not Oklahoma version) suiting up this year for GSU.

Wilcox is the only GSU player with more than 95 receiving yards (he has 302).  No other Eagle has more than six grabs, but when one does make a catch, it’s usually for a good gain.  GSU receivers are averaging 19.1 yards per reception.

Georgia Southern has a young-ish offensive line (three juniors, a sophomore, and a freshman), and it’s been a little inconsistent.  While the Eagles are fourth nationally in rushing offense, they have suffered eleven sacks, which is a lot for a team that doesn’t throw the ball too often.

On defense, the Eagles are led by Brent Russell, an interior lineman with 4.5 sacks, three other tackles for loss, and two pass breakups.  He’s a very good player.  Other than Russell, though, GSU is not particularly sack-happy, with 12 total sacks on the year.  Georgia Southern has a solid, if not dynamic, group of linebackers and an improved secondary, although one with a tendency to give up the big play (five TD passes allowed of greater than 25 yards).  Does that sound familiar?

Georgia Southern’s special teams have been outstanding. Placekicker Adrian Mora has not missed a field goal or extra point this season.  He hasn’t been asked to kick long FGs (his longest this year is 41 yards) but he has made all that he has tried. Punter Charlie Edwards is the key factor behind the Eagles’ excellent net punting average of 39 yards, fourth in the country.

Georgia Southern’s 3-1 start included a game at Navy.  GSU lost that game, but only by a 13-7 margin.  Considering it was a battle of triple option teams, both with Paul Johnson connections, I thought it was interesting that the game was low scoring.

The Citadel is also running a similar triple option system, of course.  Will the Eagles defend the same way against the Bulldogs?  And how exactly did they defend, anyway?

Well, a good person to ask would be The Birddog, chronicler of Naval Academy athletics and the unquestioned Tolstoy of the Triple Option.  I’ve mentioned his blog before; for something of an introductory primer on the offense, here are a few posts from it:

Reading Is Fundamental

The Science and the Art

The Midline Option

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

I asked him a few questions about the Georgia Southern-Navy game.  Some of the Q-and-A is below:

Question:  I read that GSU defended the option in part by using its corners more aggressively (“firing the corners”) than is the norm.  Is that correct?

Answer:  The best way to defend firing corners is just to block.  It’s not an uncommon move; Air Force, Wake Forest, and SMU did it too. The difference between the wins and the losses was personnel, specifically the slotbacks. One of our junior slotbacks who was injured to start the year came back against Wake Forest, and all of a sudden it was no longer a problem.

Question:  Would the passing game be one way to combat that?  Specifically, throwing the ball to a slotback, or maybe even the fullback (on a screen pass)?

Answer:  There are ways to beat it in the passing game too.  The simplest way is to just throw to the uncovered receiver.  I think there’s a video of that in the Air Force writeup.

[Note from SS…that post can be found here:  Link ]

The cornerback blitz is as vulnerable to screen passes as any other blitz, and Navy runs a screen to the fullback in the direction of the blitz on occasion. The wheel-post works really well against blitzing corners too.

The safety has to roll over to cover the wide receiver, which leaves a linebacker to cover a slotback, which is usually a pretty favorable matchup for the offense.  I have an example toward the end of this post:  Link

Georgia Southern’s staff knew the Navy staff’s hand signals, so Navy had to stop going no-huddle early on.  Brent Russell also played a very good game.


Question:  Any thoughts on their splits?

Answer:  GSU’s splits are wider than Navy’s. There was a rule enacted last year that prohibited anyone lined up outside the tackles from blocking below the waist back inside the tackle box. That’s why Navy’s slots line up with their inside foot inside the outside foot of the tackle.  GSU doesn’t bother having their slots cut block inside anymore, preferring to keep the formation more spread.

Thanks again to The Birddog for answering my (probably simpleminded) questions.

The passing game has been a sore spot for The Citadel this year, of course, so the notion that being able to successfully throw the ball against GSU’s defense might be a key to the game probably makes Bulldog fans a little queasy.  The Bulldog slotbacks also must block well; perimeter blocking has been an issue for The Citadel all season.

Earlier in the post I linked Jeff Hartsell’s story about The Citadel’s anemic passing game.  Here is an excerpt from that piece that is worth noting:

…the Bulldogs have to get some semblance of a throwing game in shape before Georgia Southern brings its version of the double-slot option to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday.

Coach Kevin Higgins said Monday that offensive coaches will simplify their passing schemes this week in order to do just that.

“One thing we talked about as a staff (Monday) morning is simplifying what we are doing,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference. “Last week, we carried in 30 to 36 passing plays that you practice on a routine basis, based on what you might see in a game. At this point, I think we have a good idea of what our opponents will be running. Now, in my mind, we’ve got to get that 36 down to 10 or 15 plays.

“We need to run those plays well in practice every day, so that the quarterback is more confident, and receivers and everybody else are on the same page. So I think we’ve got to simplify and practice those specific plays more throughout the week.”

Hartsell also pointed out later in the story that the better you are at running the ball in the TO, the easier it is to pass it.
It should be a nice day for a game on Saturday in Charleston, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.  Let’s hope that the sun finally shines on The Citadel in conference play.

Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Appalachian State

Time and Place:  6:00 pm ET, Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Television:  a tape-delayed broadcast on a local cable channel called MTN-18 that really needs to improve its website

This will be only the second Saturday night game played in Boone since 2001.  I gather that many of the Mountaineer fans wanted a night game; why you would want one in the mountains in mid-October, I have no idea, but their wish has been granted.  Appalachian State also played a Saturday night game against Presbyterian two years ago.

Note that I specified “Saturday night”.  In the last three seasons, the Mountaineers have played two Friday night games in Boone, one a I-AA semifinal against Richmond, the other a regular season game against Wofford televised (unfortunately for Wofford) on ESPN2.  So a night game in Boone isn’t a novelty; it’s just a little unusual.

This preview is a fairly short one, because I am in the middle of a busy stretch that includes some travel.  Among other things, that means I won’t be able to even listen to the dulcet tones of Darren Goldwater on the radio.  I won’t find out how the game went until late Saturday night.  I can probably make a decent guess as to how it will go, though.

Just a few brief observations, while I have a few minutes:

— Appalachian State is ranked #1 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and The Sports Network poll.  The last time The Citadel defeated the top-ranked I-AA team, it was 1988, and the opponent was Marshall.  That is still the most “electric” atmosphere for any game at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I have attended.

The upset on that sunny afternoon was keyed by an outstanding performance by the Bulldog defense.  To stay competitive on Saturday night, The Citadel will need a similar effort from its defensive unit.

— Sam Martin was hurt during the Chattanooga game.  This excerpt from Jeff Hartsell’s Tuesday report in The Post and Courier concerned me:

…early in the second quarter, Martin got hit by Mocs tackle Nick Davison and another player. He got to his feet and called a timeout, to Higgins’ consternation.

“I said, ‘Sam, why did you call a timeout?’ ” Higgins said at his Monday news conference. “He said, ‘Coach, I couldn’t see anything.’ So we got him off the field, and I determined it was a concussion. I’m not sure if that is what our medical staff is calling it, but we didn’t put him back in the game. He was doing fine after the game.

“We’ll keep giving him tests, but (Sunday) he was fine, (Monday) he was fine. I think he will be OK and we’ll get him practicing this week.”

Okay, a couple of things:

1)  Kevin Higgins has considerable coaching expertise, but I’ll go with the medical staff’s determination on whether or not a player has a concussion.

2)  If he really suffered a concussion, he wouldn’t be practicing.

As to what really happened to Martin during the UTC game, I have no idea.  I’m no doctor.  It sounded a little bit like what happened to Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist during the Irish’s game against Michigan State, though.  Crist was reportedly diagnosed with an “ocular migraine”.  He left that game, but later returned (and played very well).

I might add that we are less likely to find out these days exactly what a player’s medical condition is/was due to privacy laws, and I think that’s a good thing.  I also have full confidence in our medical/training staff.

— Alex Sellars tore his ACL and is done for the year.  It’s been a tough season for the fifth-year senior, who had previously suffered from back problems.  He had some outstanding moments for the Bulldogs during his career; it’s a shame there apparently won’t be any more on the field.

— Armanti Edwards is now a Carolina Panther, meaning that in terms of success, he’s gone from the penthouse to the outhouse.  He gets paid better to stay in the outhouse, though.

— His successor, DeAndre Presley, has already been named SoCon offensive player of the week three times this season, including last week against Elon, when he amassed 374 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns.  Presley has yet to throw an interception this season in 118 attempts.

Presley was injured late in that game, but is expected to play on Saturday.

— The Mountaineers’ offensive line has remained intact through all five games so far this season.  Four of those five linemen also started every game last year, and the fifth (Daniel Kilgore) started on the line for every game in 2008.

— Speaking of experience, Appalachian State has three receivers (Matt Cline, CoCo Hillary, and big-play threat Brian Quick) who seem to have been playing for the Mountaineers since the late 1990s.

— As you can see, Appalachian State had lots of starters on offense coming back, save the quarterback position, and Presley obviously has made the transition from Edwards fairly seamless.  However, the Mountaineers have some new faces on defense, and that’s been a bit of a problem (at least, as big a problem as an undefeated team could have).

Appalachian State is allowing 254 passing yards per game and 381 total yards per contest, both below-average numbers.  However, its average points allowed per game (23.8) isn’t as bad as those peripheral statistics.  App State games are like track meets, and opponents find it difficult to keep up.  No lead is safe, either, as Chattanooga found out (ASU prevailing 42-41 after scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter).

— In last year’s game against the Mountaineers, the Bulldogs just missed pulling off a big upset (30-27, OT).  What The Citadel did well in that game was run the football, compiling 214 yards rushing while in a spread attack, including one of the more spectacular runs in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium (Van Dyke Jones’ 69-yard TD).

The Bulldogs will need more than 214 yards rushing to compete with App State on Saturday, at least as long as the offense continues to average less than 60 yards passing per game.  Incidentally, The Citadel’s 247.7 ypg rushing is actually less than ASU’s (264.6 ypg).

— Appalachian State has already had ten different players score offensive touchdowns this season.  Five of those players have scored three TDs or more (Presley has eight).

— If the Mountaineers punt, don’t be confused when you hear Sam Martin’s name mentioned.  That’s the name of the ASU punter, no relation (I’m guessing) to the Bulldog quarterback.

— You may have read that Appalachian State is going to conduct a feasibility study on the possibility of moving up to FBS (I-A).  Of course, just last year fellow Southern Conference member Georgia Southern commissioned its own study on the topic, which I wrote about (probably too extensively) here.

In general, I am skeptical about schools moving up to FBS land; while fans and administrators dream of being the next Boise State, the truth is most schools are much more likely to become the next Louisiana-Monroe.  However, I can understand why App State is exploring the terrain.

It’s a strange time right now in the world of FCS.  The CAA is a good example.  Villanova is the reigning FCS champ, but has an offer to move to I-A and the Big East.  Two league schools (Hofstra and Northeastern) dropped the sport last year.  Georgia State and Old Dominion are now fielding teams and will join the league.  Rhode Island is considering a move to the Northeast Conference (motto:  we’re cheaper).

That’s just one league.  Back in the not-so-gentle world of the Southern Conference, it wasn’t that long ago the league included East Tennessee State, VMI, and Marshall.  Things change, and it’s important to evaluate things once in a while.  After all, as recently as 1995, The Citadel studied I-A as a possible option.

I think Appalachian State is marginally better positioned to move to FBS than Georgia Southern.  However, I greatly suspect that the feasibility study will show that ASU should stay right where it is, which I think would satisfy most of its fan base.  However, if “right where it is” were to no longer exist, the school should have a better idea of what its options are.

There won’t be a specific review post of the Appalachian State game on the blog next week.  Writing the preview of the Georgia Southern game is going to be enough of a struggle as it is; I’ll undoubtably take a look back at the ASU game as part of that preview.  The TV schedule post will still happen, possibly a day later than normal.

Go Dogs!

Review: Western Carolina

Western Carolina 24, The Citadel 13.

It was a dismal performance in just about every respect.  There are basically no positives that can be taken from this game.  None.

Blame will be placed on the anemic offense, and it’s certainly true there was no visible progress on that front in this game (and arguably some regression).  However, the defense was even more disappointing. particularly the secondary, which as a unit was terrible all day long.

The play that best summed up the game occurred on Western Carolina’s second possession of the contest.  The Catamounts faced a third-and-six on their own 24. Quarterback Brandon Pechloff, under some pressure, floated a pass that traveled almost 30 yards in the air, and I mean floated.  While the ball was in the air, it would have been possible to sing the national anthem in its entirety, including holding the “free” note as long as a diva could desire.

Despite the lack of sizzle on the pass, no Bulldog defender was able to make a play on the ball.  As a result Catamount wideout Josh Cockrell was able to make a 20-yard reception, cradling the ball as he fell backwards, with three Bulldogs within six yards of him (and a fourth rushing into the mix).

This happened a lot.  On the next WCU drive, the Bulldogs committed pass interference on consecutive plays, setting up a first-and-goal situation.  The Catamounts scored two plays later.  On both PIs the defender did not know the ball was headed in his direction, resulting in penalties when he made contact with the receiver (the second one was a close call, although I thought it was a correct one; a number of other people did not agree with me, however).

The Catamounts’ second TD came after a fumbled punt.  Pechloff’s pass to Jacoby Mitchell was underthrown and should have been intercepted or at least batted away, but the defender, while in good position, mistimed his jump.  Mitchell caught the ball and strolled into the end zone.

The fourth-quarter play that basically iced the game was another instance of a defensive back lacking ball awareness.  Pechloff floated a 30-yard pass that was badly underthrown (again), but the DB never saw it and the WCU receiver (Mitchell again) came back to the ball to make the catch at the Bulldog 5.  Western Carolina scored on the next play for an essentially insurmountable two-score lead.

Pechloff competed very well in this game, showing a lot of composure for a true freshman making his first career start.  However, he is slow afoot and his injury-riddled offensive line is not very good.  The Bulldogs’ defensive line probably should have sacked him more than once, although he did a good job getting rid of the ball.  In doing so, though, he threw several passes that would have been intercepted by a better defensive secondary.

As for the offense, the first half was abysmal.  There were five possessions, and they went like this:  3 yards and a punt; 8 yards and failed on 4th-and-1 (from the Bulldog 45 — I liked the decision to go for it, but not the play call); 33 yards, two first downs, and an 8-yard punt; 3 yards and a FG (this was after a WCU turnover); 42 yards, two first downs, and failed on 4th-and-10 (from the WCU 38).  If anything, it was worse than how it reads.

The offense struggled running the ball outside, a season-long problem, thanks mostly to the lack of good perimeter blocking.  No slotback had a rush longer than nine yards.  (The one good outside rush in the game, by Van Dyke Jones in the second quarter, was called back by an obvious, and pointless, holding penalty by a receiver.)

There was hope in the third quarter when a nice drive by the Bulldogs was finished by Terrell Dallas’ 45-yard touchdown, a play much like his 80-yard gallop in the PC game.  The Citadel then kicked a FG and was in a position to score again early in the fourth quarter when it faced a 4th-and-11 at the WCU 30.

Kevin Higgins elected to have Ryan Sellers attempt a 47-yard field goal.  Sellers had a good game on Saturday, stepping in for regular placekicker Sam Keeler (who was ill), but I thought attempting the FG in that situation was a mistake.  It’s a tough decision, but a field goal there still doesn’t give you the lead, and the odds of making a 47-yarder with your backup kicker probably aren’t that good.  On the other hand, it was 4th-and-11.

At any rate, Sellers narrowly missed the try, and then the defense just folded.  A missed tackle resulted in a 33-yard run, just about the only decent rush WCU had in the entire game.  That was immediately followed by Mitchell’s reception inside the 10. The Catamounts scored on the next play.  Four plays, touchdown, fans getting up and leaving.

It was a very frustrating game to watch.  Kevin Higgins was apparently frustrated as well.  I want to highlight one of Higgins’ quotes in Jeff Hartsell’s game story, though:

“In the first half, we just didn’t block like we needed to up front. They came out in a 4-3 defense, and we had been working on a (five-man front) all week, and we just didn’t make the adjustments up front and couldn’t get any first downs.”

It’s one thing to struggle on the first series of the game while trying to figure out what defense is being employed, but for an entire half?  That’s not good enough.  This has been a bit of a theme this year, with the Bulldogs allegedly being more of a “second quarter” team while spending the first quarter deciphering defenses.  The problem, of course, is that there are only a limited number of possessions in a game, especially for a triple option attack, and The Citadel can’t use one (or two) quarters as some sort of recon mission — it has to score (or at least possess the ball) early in the game, too.

I’ll have more on-the-field thoughts when I preview the UT-Chattanooga game, but for now I want to briefly discuss some off-field issues, notably attendance (or the lack thereof).

Larry Leckonby has a problem.  The attendance on Saturday (10,207) would have been embarrassing just a few short years ago, but now is almost old hat.  Leckonby finds himself in the position of presiding over the worst run of attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium in at least four decades.

I’ve written about attendance before, and I understand there are multiple issues at play, but I am really surprised at the continued decline.  The easy answer is that The Citadel hasn’t had a good football program for a decade-plus, but there is more to it than that (although that’s a significant factor).

If The Citadel can’t stop the attendance downturn, that will undoubtedly have an impact on future scheduling.  In the upcoming years where The Citadel can schedule 12 games, perhaps the Bulldogs will wind up playing two FBS schools and not play an extra home game.  It may be that five home games will become the norm, regardless of whether the team plays 11 or 12 regular-season games.

On Saturday I had the opportunity to survey the club section for the first time during a game.  I have to say that, in general, the club setup is not meant for someone like me. During the game I am prone to glaring intently at the field, occasionally muttering to myself, and getting up and walking around if there is space available to do so.  The club section is a bit more relaxed, and that’s okay.

It’s a very nice setup.  It’s the kind of thing The Citadel is usually very good at managing, and so I wasn’t surprised at how neat it was.  It had TVs (watching Clemson commit six turnovers against Miami was sort of entertaining in itself), a bar (of course — this is The Citadel!), a buffet, seating…the works.  If you ever have a chance to go up there for a game, I would encourage you to do so.

I learned one thing on Saturday while in the club section:  sweet tea is a godsend during a college football game.  How did I not know this?

I do wonder if space in the club section might become more of an issue if game attendance (and presumably club seating attendance) was better.  Unfortunately, that’s a potential problem Larry Leckonby and Jerry Baker have yet to encounter.

I’ll close this by including some pictures I took during the game, mostly of the offense.  Some of these are of the same play (as it is developing).  If you’re wondering why I don’t have an entire play photographed, it’s because I’m a terrible photographer with a cheap camera.  The first three pictures of the offense are of the beginning of Terrell Dallas’ touchdown run.

The first photo, though, is a shot of the corps of cadets.  I took this picture because I want interested observers who don’t get to go to the games to see just how many cadets are actually in the stands during a game.  This is an issue I would really like to see addressed by the administration.  It was even more noticeable during last year’s Homecoming game.

Football, Game 5: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

This week’s edition of the game preview is a bit of a ramble.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad…

In last season’s preview of the Western Carolina game, I wrote (among other things) about how WCU has some built-in problems when it comes to competing successfully in football in the Southern Conference.  At the time, the Catamounts were 0-5.  It was a game The Citadel was supposed to win.

The Bulldogs lost, 14-10.

That’s the lesson to be learned when it comes to The Citadel competing in the SoCon.  The Bulldogs may face a team that is struggling and/or lacks (as a program) certain resources.  However, The Citadel will never be in a position to just show up and win while playing its “C” game.  The military school doesn’t have the capacity to do that, and never will, because of its own restrictions (note that I said restrictions, not disadvantages).

At its best as a program, The Citadel could beat any league team — and could lose to any league team.  That’s just the way it is.  In terms of physical talent, no other conference squad will ever be overmatched by the Bulldogs.

This season, Western Carolina is 1-3, including a 24-point home loss to Tusculum, a Division II school.  On Saturday, on the road at Johnson Hagood Stadium, Catamounts coach Dennis Wagner will give a true freshman quarterback his first career start.  It is a game The Citadel is supposed to win…

Western Carolina opened its season by losing 48-7 to North Carolina State, which no one could get too upset about.  Then, however, the Catamounts were embarrassed by Tusculum 54-30 (in a game that ended with 2:39 still on the clock after a lightning strike).  Plenty of Catamount fans were upset about that.

WCU followed that up with a somewhat surprising 28-14 win over Gardner-Webb, which had just upset Akron.  Last week’s 27-21 loss to UT-Chattanooga was also a bit of an eyebrow-raiser, as the game wasn’t supposed to be that close.

I decided to discount the NC State game when looking at WCU’s statistical record. Western Carolina actually scored first in that game before allowed 48 unanswered points.  Still, that was against a currently undefeated BCS school.

Against Tusculum (as mentioned above, a Division II school, and one that only won three games last season), the Catamounts gave up fumble return touchdowns of 90 and 60 yards and were also victimized by a blocked punt that resulted in a TD one play later.  Ouch.  Just before halftime, the score was 27-0.  It was just a complete debacle.

Also noteworthy:  Tusculum only had 42 net yards rushing, but threw for 410 yards without being intercepted.  The stats for this game were very different from the other WCU games in several respects — the Catamounts finished with more first downs and more time of possession, for example.

That game looks like a situation where things started terribly, and the Catamounts were simply incapable of reversing the momentum.  That may be an indication of how fragile WCU’s program is, but I think Western Carolina’s 9-40 record since 2006 is enough of an indicator.

Then came the promising performances against Gardner-Webb and UTC.

Against G-W, Western Carolina only picked up 7 first downs on offense (to the Bulldogs’ 24) and was on the short end of time of possession by almost 16 minutes. So how did the Catamounts prevail?  By taking advantage of six turnovers, that’s how. WCU intercepted five passes, returning one for a score, and also returned a fumble for a TD.  Torrez Jones had four of the five picks (although not the pick-6).

WCU’s other two scores in the game were on a 78-yard pass reception and a 60-yard run, so big plays ruled the day.  Gardner-Webb couldn’t overcome all of them, even at home.

The UT-Chattanooga game was a similar story.  The Mocs had 24 first downs to WCU’s 12 (with the Catamounts not picking up a single first down by rushing).  In this game Western Carolina committed four turnovers, all by Brandon Pechloff, the freshman who will be starting against The Citadel on Saturday (three interceptions, one fumble).

However, WCU forced four turnovers of its own, including three fumbles, one of which it returned for a TD.  WCU also scored on a trick play.  After a UTC punt gave the Catamounts great field position, WCU scored on its first play following the change in possession on a wide receiver pass.

To sum up, the Catamounts are not the type of team that sustains long scoring drives. The Catamounts have had to count on big plays, both offensively and defensively, to stay in games.    I could see The Citadel rolling up a huge edge in time of possession in this game, but it won’t mean much if the Bulldogs turn the ball over.

The big play motif is probably a key factor behind WCU coach Dennis Wagner’s decision to start Pechloff, a 6’7″ left-hander, at quarterback.  The starter for the UTC game, Zac Brindise, left that game after completing 10 of 14 passes, but for only 34 yards.  That wouldn’t be good enough for any team, and certainly not one like WCU. Pechloff may have thrown three interceptions, but his yards-per-attempt rate of 6.04 was a lot better than Brindise’s 2.43 YPA.

It’s hard to blame Wagner for taking a shot with the young QB.  It’s up to the Bulldog defense to take advantage of his inexperience and collect a few turnovers of its own.

Tangent:  Chattanooga beat writer John Frierson noted in a Tweet that “WCU coach Dennis Wagner might be the only college head coach who wears shorts on game day. I bet others wish they did.”


I don’t recall ever seeing a college head coach wear shorts during a game.  In a way it’s amazing that no one else has (or that I can’t think of anyone else, anyway). Saturday is supposed to be clear with a high of 77 degrees, so I’m guessing Wagner breaks out the long pants against The Citadel.

Frierson also noted in another tweet that Pechloff “looked good once he settled down a bit”, so this probably won’t be a case of the Bulldogs going up against an overly anxious quarterback.  Pechloff could be a find for WCU, too; he led his high school team in Illinois to the 5A championship as a senior after not starting his junior year (which according to him is the reason bigger schools did not offer him a scholarship).

Like every other high school prospect, Pechloff had a Youtube video.  You can see it here.

I would say that The Citadel needs to pressure Pechloff, but you could say that every week about every quarterback the Bulldogs defense faces.  I think another thing to do, though, is to give him different looks and force him to make reads under duress.

I also wouldn’t bet against Brindise making an appearance for WCU against the Bulldogs.

I wrote about things the Bulldogs did well/need to improve in my review of the Furman game, so I’m not going to rehash that here.  I’ll make a couple of quick points, though:

— With the triple option, there is a significant element of “take what the defense gives you” to the offense.  Terrell Dallas’ stat lines against Presbyterian and Furman the last two weeks are a good example of that.  However, I think there is still a place in the triple option to feature certain players in some situations.  The Citadel has to get the ball to its best playmakers.

It may not be that easy to free up a fullback like Dallas, but I would like to see more opportunities for Jones.  That would be Van Dyke Jones and Domonic Jones, or any other Jones on The Citadel’s campus who can be a gamebreaker.  Terrance Martin did struggle with the science of going in motion against Furman, but regardless he is another player capable of making big plays.  I hope he gets more chances to change the game.

— It’s about time for Milford Scott to block another punt.  He also has to lead all levels of football in the head-over-heels flipperama move, which is a little scary.  The special teams in general (jinx alert) have looked better this year so far, although the placekicking remains a concern.

Let’s wrap this up with a couple of sort-of-but-not-really related observations:

— One “new” tradition at Johnson Hagood Stadium that I like is the corps singing the “Olé Olé Olé” song, a la European/South American soccer matches.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the corps to emulate more soccer traditions (well, maybe not the hooliganism, racism, and setting off of flares).

There is something very natural about a crowd singing/chanting without prompting or assistance from a loud, obnoxious sound system/video board.  It just felt right to me when the corps did its chant.  The best sounds to be heard at the game were that, and the band.

If the corps could throw in some large soccerstyle banners, too, that would be cool. (The “Star Wars” one [actually two] that the Toronto fans did killed me.)

— The “get fired up” shorts featuring defensive players that are repeatedly aired on the video board…well, it gets old fast, especially when the same short gets played three or four times in a row between plays.  Maybe those should be more judiciously employed.

I’m ready for Saturday.

Review: Presbyterian

The Citadel 26, Presbyterian 14.  It was a good win.  Of course, any win is a good win.

I was worried about this one, even though PC has now lost 17 in a row, because I wasn’t sure the Bulldog offense was capable of scoring a lot of points against any FCS/FBS competition, and I remembered how the Blue Hose had gashed The Citadel’s defense last season.  In last season’s game, Presbyterian had 190 yards passing and 204 yards rushing.  

On Saturday night, though, the Bulldogs held PC’s offense to 212 total yards.  The Blue Hose attempted 26 passes, but only managed 90 yards through the air, and suffered three interceptions. Of those 26 throws, 11 were completed, but 8 of the 11 went for a combined 32 yards.  (PC had a drive in the second quarter that went like this:  pass completion for -1 yard, pass completion for 1 yard, pass completion for no gain, punt.)

Trandon Dendy had another good game against The Citadel, again going over the 100-yard mark, with 103 yards on 15 carries, including a 43-yard TD run in the first quarter.  I was a bit surprised he didn’t carry the ball more often.  Sometimes I think teams try to have an “ideal” run/pass balance when they would be better off concentrating on what is actually effective. 

The play that seemed to jump-start the Bulldog defense was an ill-advised post pass by the Blue Hose that was intercepted by Demetrius Jackson (the first of two picks for Jackson).  Prior to that play, Dendy had run the ball four consecutive times, picking up a first down and then six more yards on first-and-ten.  The Citadel would eventually convert the interception into the go-ahead touchdown. 

The Bulldogs would hold Presbyterian to 73 total yards on the Blue Hose’s next eight possessions.  Other than Dendy’s first-quarter TD run and a six-play, 76-yard drive late in the game, when The Citadel’s D seemed to lose focus, PC was unable to move the ball.  A Cass Couey punt inside the five set the stage for the game’s final points, a quarterback sack in the end zone for a safety (that should have been ruled a fumble/TD, not that it mattered).

Speaking of Couey, he has arguably been The Citadel’s most effective player over the first three games of the season.  He’s been very solid.

The Bulldog offense looked better against PC than it did against Chowan, which was good to see, although there is still plenty of room for improvement.  There were six fumbles (two lost), eight penalties (one which cost the Bulldogs a touchdown), dropped passes (including an easy would-be TD), and missed blocks (particularly on the perimeter). 

Odds and ends:

— There were some good play calls in this game.  Unfortunately, two of the best ones didn’t work out.  A perfectly-timed post pass for a TD was called back by an illegal formation penalty. The Bulldogs showed good composure to overcome that disappointment and score on the drive anyway (Van Dyke Jones getting the TD he should have had three plays earlier).

Another fine call was the slotback option pass by Ben Dupree, a cinch TD that was dropped.  Those have to be caught, obviously.  Dupree looked comfortable in the slotback position and could be quite a weapon for The Citadel.  I wouldn’t mind seeing the Bulldogs try that play once per game.

— I also liked the fact The Citadel went for it on 4th-and-5 on the PC 37 on its opening drive.  Matt Thompson made the right read, gave the ball to Terrell Dallas, and 37 yards later the fullback was in the end zone.  Very nice.

—  Warning:  Xs-and-Os discussion to follow.  There is no guarantee I actually know what I’m talking about in the next two paragraphs.

Presbyterian had some interesting alignments along its defensive front.  In particular, the Blue Hose had a setup where the DL lined up directly opposite the center, left guard, and tackles, but left the space opposite the right guard empty, with no obvious (at least to me) coverage from the linebackers.

PC appeared to be keying on the quarterback, and it looked to me like the DBs were “cheating” like crazy throughout much of the game.  As a result, some of the option plays that went to the slotbacks didn’t go so well.  On the other hand, if the guy assigned to the fullback whiffed, there was no safety net.  Hence, Terrell Dallas’ 80-yard TD run where he wasn’t touched.

— I sometimes worry I’m a little negative when I write these reviews (or previews), so let me give a shout-out to the radio team for calling a fine game.  I thought Walt Nadzak had one of his better efforts in the analyst’s chair, and Darren Goldwater deserves a lot of credit for correctly identifying players, a very difficult task because of the conditions and the uniforms.

— Ah yes, the uniforms…

Putting aside for the moment that navy blue is supposed to be an accent color, not the pre-dominant one, in The Citadel’s uniforms, it appears in this photo that The Citadel had at least four different shades of blue (including the helmet) in its uniform on Saturday.  Maybe that’s just the lighting in the photo.  I would like to think so, but I suspect otherwise. 

One unaccounted-for consequence of wearing navy jerseys with medium (not light) blue numerals is that it made it harder to ID players, particularly at night, following a storm, and with cannon fire smoke hanging in the air.  I’m guessing nobody in the press box was crazy about the uniforms — at least, nobody whose job involves trying to figure out which players are in the game/making tackles/carrying the ball/etc.

As usual, the uniform fails to include the full (and correct) name of the school in the lettering on the front of the jersey.  I have no idea why it’s so difficult to do this.  Maybe it’s a Nike thing.

— 

All in all, a good night for The Citadel’s football team.  The team completes its non-conference slate with a 2-1 record, which is what was expected, but not guaranteed. 

I’ll conclude this by saying that I like the idea of playing Presbyterian on a regular basis; maybe not every season, but more often than not.  PC fits the bill of what The Citadel needs in a non-conference home opener better than just about any other alternative, particularly with the way the schedule will shake out over the next few years (including the revival of the series with VMI).

On to Furman.

Football, Game 1: The Citadel vs. Chowan

It’s time for college football!   This year the scene at Johnson Hagood Stadium should include a lot of the following:  great tailgating, photo ops with Bulldogs both live and bronze, and, uh, fumbles…

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the sunniest intro of all time.  I have to be honest here, though.  While I am looking forward to the season, this year I am a bit apprehensive about what lies ahead for the Bulldogs on the gridiron.  The Citadel is going to the triple option on offense, with a head coach who has never run the offense (or any similar offense) before, and with players who were mostly recruited for a very different kind of system.

The players who were recruited with the triple option in mind, of course, are all true freshmen.  The quarterback position will likely be manned by one (or more) of those true freshmen. The “knob”-starting quarterback double is a rare one, and for a reason. It’s an exceedingly difficult combination.

The Southern Conference media and coaches agree that this season could be a long one for The Citadel, just as the last two seasons have been.  The media picked the Bulldogs to finish last in the league.  The coaches ranked The Citadel eighth out of nine teams, ahead of only Western Carolina.

The Catamounts finished last in 2009, with only one league win.  That one WCU victory came against The Citadel, which tied for next-to-last.  More of the same is expected by those who follow the SoCon.

Before beginning league play, though, The Citadel will play three non-conference games.  Next week’s game at Arizona should be…interesting.  The following week the Bulldogs will take on Presbyterian, a team that went 0-11 last season, including a 46-21 loss to The Citadel.  However, even the Blue Hose would be favored against the Bulldogs’ opponent on Saturday, Chowan University, a Division II school located in Murfreesboro, North Carolina.

When the Hawks were announced as the opposition for the home opener, a collective yawn could be heard from The Citadel’s less-than-thrilled fans.  It’s hard to blame anyone for not being excited about Chowan being on the schedule, with all due respect to that school.  I’m guessing this game’s not going to be a sellout.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Chowan.

I wish I could say with confidence exactly how “Chowan” should be pronounced.  This is probably something that should concern Bulldogs play-by-play announcer Darren Goldwater a lot more than me, but I like to know these things.  I even sent an e-mail to Chowan’s department of athletics asking the question, and quickly got a response:

It’s pronounced CHO-WAN with a hard CH, just like CHOKE or CHICKEN. CHO-WAN.

That’s from somebody who works at the school, so she ought to know, but two different people have insisted to me that it’s actually pronounced “Shuh-WONN”, with the “Sh” sound at the beginning and the accent on the second syllable.  Since both of them are natives of eastern North Carolina, the region of the state that actually has decent BBQ, I tend to trust them.

“Chowan” is a derivative of “Chowanoke”, the name given to the native tribe of the region by 16th-century European explorers.  My guess is that if you were French, you pronounced it with the “Sh”, and if you were English, you went with the hard “Ch” sound.  It’s kind of like Beaufort (BO-fert), North Carolina, and Beaufort (BYOO-fert), South Carolina.

You like to-ma-to, I like to-mah-to, let’s call the whole thing off…

There is also a Chowan river, and a Chowan County — but Chowan University isn’t located in that county, but in the adjoining county of Hertford.  Naturally, this school in northeastern North Carolina is named to honor a tribe whose name means “people of the south”.

Regardless of its pronunciation, the school has been around in one form or another since 1848, when it was founded as Chowan Baptist Female Institute.  The school remained all-female until 1931, but in 1937 it became a junior college.

It reverted back to four-year status in 1992, and changed its name to the current Chowan University in 2006.  This fall, it will offer its first Masters Degree program, in Elementary Education.  Chowan remains affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

About 1100 students attend Chowan.  I thought the section titled “Who we serve” on the school’s website was interesting:

The Chowan University community is committed to serving average students. By “average” we mean students with a GPA from 2.25-3.25 and “average” SAT scores (around 1300 for the three part SAT). Students below these criteria may be admitted if they show a commitment to the Chowan University experience and academic potential…

Many of our students are first generation college students which means their parents did not attend college or complete a college degree. Because of Chowan’s commitment to individual attention in a Christian environment, these students thrive here.

I liked this statement.  Too many schools insist on presenting themselves as wannabe Ivies, when everyone knows better.  Here we have a school that knows exactly what its mission is, and what it wants to do, and isn’t apologetic about it in the least.  Good for Chowan.

Chowan had a fine run in football as a junior college, almost entirely under James Garrison, who was the head coach at the school for 43 years (and for whom its football stadium is named).  Quite a few Chowan alums went on to four-year schools and then the NFL, including George Koonce, Curtis Whitley, and Mark Royals.

However, Chowan has struggled on the gridiron since becoming a four-year school itself.  Since 1993, the Hawks (formerly the Braves) have a cumulative record of 39-168-1 in Division III and (since 2005) Division II.  That includes Saturday’s 59-10 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne.

Chowan has been a football member of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association since the 2008 season (and is now a full member of the conference). Chowan is the first non-HBCU member of the CIAA in the league’s 98-year history.

The CIAA now has 13 members, and as a result the conference’s slogan for this year is “Triskaidekaphobia: Fear the 13!”  I’m not sure what the Southern Conference’s slogan would be — “The SoCon: The Nation’s Most Transient League”?

For Chowan football, the last five years have looked like this:

2005 — 2-8, including a 56-10 loss to North Greenville (now of Willy Korn fame) and a 42-21 defeat at the hands of Allen, which dropped its program after the season

2006 — 0-10, including losses of 42-0 to Western Carolina, 52-6 to North Greenville, and 28-0 to Webber International; Webber played The Citadel the following season, with a slightly different result

2007 — 2-9, including a lot of total beatdowns:  51-0 (Coastal Carolina), 56-14 (North Greenville), Presbyterian (62-10), and Newberry (67-0)

2008 — 2-8, which featured an early-season 69-20 loss to VMI (which had concluded its 2007 campaign in memorable fashion)

2009 — 2-8, although most of the games were more competitive; the Hawks did lose 36-21 to Old Dominion, the Monarchs’ first game since restarting its program after a 68-year hiatus (ODU did finish the season 9-2, though)

Those last two seasons came under the direction of the current head coach, Tim Place.  Place is a Washington & Lee alum who was previously the head coach at Urbana, an NAIA school in Ohio.

One of the members of Place’s coaching staff is Omar Nesbit.  Nesbit was an All-SoCon lineman at The Citadel, graduating in 2002.  He is the Hawks’ offensive line coach.

According to the school’s pre-season football guide, the team runs a “multiple” offense and a “multiple” defense.  Thirteen starters are back from last year’s outfit.

Last season the Hawks scored 25.3 points per game, not bad, but allowed 35.2 ppg. While the Hawks were a respectable passing team, all 25 of its TD passes were thrown by C.J. Westler, who was the offensive player of the year in the CIAA, and who is not among the returnees.  Much like The Citadel, Chowan has to find a quarterback (it played two in the Lenoir-Rhyne game).

Chowan turned the ball over three times per game, almost double its opponents’ totals, and averaged an anemic 2.9 yards per rush.  The Hawks gave up 48 sacks.

Defensively, the Hawks allowed 4.6 yards per rush and 9.3 yards per pass attempt, which is obviously not good.  Opponents scored touchdowns 70% of the time when they entered the “red zone”.  Chowan was also not a particularly efficient punting or placekicking team.

Against Lenoir-Rhyne, Chowan allowed 513 rushing yards (6.9 per attempt).  This is noteworthy in that L-R is running the same offensive system this season it ran last year under the direction of then-offensive coordinator Tommy Laurendine — who of course is now the offensive coordinator at The Citadel.

Laurendine has his work cut out for him, based on early reports.  For example, this is how Jeff Hartsell began his recap of the August 21 scrimmage:

After watching his quarterbacks combine for six interceptions and at least five fumbled snaps in Saturday’s scrimmage, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins stated the obvious.

“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do,” said Higgins…

You could say that, coach.  On the bright side, nine of the eighteen pass attempts in the scrimmage were caught by Bulldogs.  Alas, six of them were defenders.  At least on those plays the QB got the snap from center.  Unofficial totals from the scrimmage had the first-team offense rushing 27 times for 67 yards.

At least the defense apparently looked good, although how much of that was due to the offense’s struggles is open to question.  The kicking game again failed to impress, a problem Higgins has been unable to solve for the last two seasons.

The scrimmage on August 28 was apparently better, based on some anecdotal reports.  At this point it appears the Bulldogs will play two “true” freshman quarterbacks, Ben Dupree (from Pennsylvania) and Matt Thompson (from Florida).

Terrell “First Sergeant” Dallas will be the fullback.  There are several candidates to fill the slotback positions, led by Van Dyke Jones and injury-plagued Rickey Anderson (everyone’s crossing their fingers for you, Rickey).  The offensive line has some experience, but not at center, which in part explains the center-QB exchange problems.

We won’t know for sure exactly how the new offense will look until Saturday, but it probably will be a slightly different variation than Charlie Taaffe’s version of the wishbone.  It’s not going to be quite like Wofford’s option attack, either.

It’s probably going to most resemble the setup run by Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and now Georgia Tech.  With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Higgins, with a personal history of running spread passing offenses, throws the ball a little more often than you see in most triple option offenses.

He has to figure out a way to get talented tight end Alex Sellars involved in the offense. Higgins has also commented on the big-play ability of Domonic Jones, a 6’5″ redshirt freshman.  I like the idea of isolating a tall receiver on a smaller defensive back in this offense.  Of course, you have to have a quarterback capable of getting the ball to Jones.

I linked this in an earlier post, but to get up to speed on how this offense will probably operate, check out The Birddog (helmed by a grad/fan of the Naval Academy), the triple option devotee’s website of choice.  Here is a primer on the TO:  Link

While the offense is filled with question marks, the defense should have a lot of answers.  There is depth and talent on that side of the ball, particularly in the defensive backfield.  Cortez Allen has drawn pre-season accolades.  Other DBs with the potential to shine include Keith Gamble (who had an 89-yard interception return against Presbyterian last season) and Joseph Boateng (who intercepted two passes in his collegiate debut against North Carolina).

Former safety Rod Harland is now a linebacker, joining team leader Tolu Akindele and Jeremy Buncum as likely starters.  The defensive line should be solid, if a little young.  Chris Billingslea had some impressive moments last season (and made the All-SoCon freshman team as a result).  Keith Carter is a redshirt freshman who should draw notice, if only for being a defensive tackle who wears #33.

The other defensive lineman (at least that’s his roster designation) I want to mention is Milford Scott, a special teams terror who blocked three kicks last season and created havoc many other times.  He’s tall, has long arms, and describes himself as a “Charleston homeboy” from the beach.  He’s a weapon.

Unfortunately, Scott’s dynamism on special teams was an exception (not counting Andre Roberts, obviously).  While punter Cass Couey fared reasonably well, the Bulldogs continued to struggle in the placekicking department.  That’s two seasons in a row The Citadel has had sub-optimal kicking, and early returns suggest it might be three in a row.

I don’t blame the kickers.  I blame the coaching staff.  It’s the job of the staff to get that aspect of the squad fixed, either by improving the kickers on the squad or finding somebody else to kick.

The Citadel also could stand to improve its punt coverage team (Scott aside) and its kickoff return unit.  The Bulldogs will sorely miss Andre Roberts as a punt returner; look for that component of special teams to not be as effective this season.

There has been a lot of turnover in the coaching staff, not only with the new offensive scheme (where the aforementioned Laurendine is joined by offensive line coach Bob Bodine), but with the defense as well.  Higgins recruited former Wofford assistant Josh Conklin to join the staff, and later named him defensive coordinator.

Conklin will get help from another new assistant, Denny Doornbos, who was the defensive coordinator at Army during the Bob Sutton years, which were mostly good ones.  I have to gleefully point out, though, that he was the DC for this game…and for this game, too.

While all the talk in the off-season has been about the offensive scheme, and how the coaches will implement it, I think the new coaches on the defensive side of the ball will be just as important.  Generally, you would like to have more staff continuity than The Citadel has had, but in the case of the defense, I think a fresh approach may be just what was needed.

There was a sense over the last two seasons that the defense had underachieved; in particular, some observers felt the unit was not aggressive enough.  The Bulldogs’ D must be pro-active this season, and give the offense short fields with which to work. The defense will likely also have to bail the offense out on a regular basis.

This is going to be an important year for Kevin Higgins.  The off-season issues, not surprisingly, did not sit well with the alumni — and I’m not just talking about the big boosters or the message board regulars.  He also has had back-to-back disappointing seasons on the field.

The move to a new offense, and the overhaul of his coaching staff, were both bold moves made by someone who expects to stick around for a while.  They weren’t short-term stopgaps.  That is to his credit, I think.

Now, however, even with modest on-field expectations, he needs to get the fan base to buy into his program again.  After all, Larry Leckonby and company need to sell tickets and sponsorships.  Jerry Baker has Brigadier Club membership goals to obtain, whatever his methods are (high-tech, low-tech, begging, etc.).

A 1:00 pm start time against Chowan on Labor Day weekend in Charleston probably isn’t going to be a big winner as far as attendance goes.  I fully expect one of those hot-and-humid Lowcountry days that are fairly typical for this time of year. Ugh.  Of course, that’s assuming a hurricane doesn’t come into play.

I’ll be there anyway, though.  I’m ready for some football.

Same song, different year

In college football, there are not that many games in a season, at least when compared to other sports.  For an FCS school, there are just eleven opportunities.  It’s important to make the most of each and every one of them.

The Citadel has played nine games this season.  In three of those games, the team’s performance has been absolutely awful, and I mean awful in the “did they know there was a game today?” sense.  That’s fully one-third of the games.

In sports, every now and then you’re going to have a bad day where nothing goes right (the same is true for life in general).  Most fans can understand that.  Having it happen once every three games — well, that’s not so understandable.  Worse, all three thud-fests were conference games (Elon, Western Carolina, and now Wofford).

In past posts, I called the Elon game a debacle, and the WCU loss a disaster.  I’m not sure what adjective applies to The Citadel’s game on Saturday against the Terriers.  Perhaps I should call it “disheartening” just to stay with the D-word theme.

Speaking of D:

  • On the second Wofford series, the Terriers were faced with a 3rd-and-8, and promptly converted it by completing a 23-yard pass — this from a team that rarely throws the ball (Wofford entered the contest last in the nation in passing yardage per game).  You just knew it was going to be a long day for the Bulldogs when that happened.
  • That third-down conversion was one of seven the Terriers picked up in eleven tries.  Wofford had come into the game only converting 38% of its third downs.
  • Of course, Wofford had 13 first downs in which it didn’t even need to convert a third down.
  • Wofford had lost 13 fumbles and thrown 6 interceptions prior to Saturday’s game, but the only Terrier turnover on Saturday came deep in Bulldog territory with Wofford already leading 29-10.
  • That fumble would be the only time the Terriers failed to score in the “red zone” in seven tries (four touchdowns, two field goals).

The defense’s day was probably best epitomized by a play in the second quarter.  Wofford faced a 3rd and 1 at The Citadel’s 33 yard line.  As the Terriers broke their huddle, an image of Terrence Reese in full “make some noise, get pumped up” mode appeared on the video board.  Wofford ran an inside handoff for three yards and a first down, with Reese then penalized for a late hit.  The Terriers scored four plays later.

The defensive issues weren’t particularly surprising, given the Bulldogs’ struggles on D for most of the season, and the success Wofford has had against The Citadel in recent years.  During the Kevin Higgins era, the Terriers have scored at least 28 points in every game against the Bulldogs.

However, unlike last season’s game against Wofford, on Saturday the Bulldog offense was equally disappointing.

I’m not sure what to make of the way the quarterbacks were utilized during the game.  Obviously, Bart Blanchard and Miguel Starks were both coming off injuries, and if they couldn’t play, that would be one thing.  As it happened, they both played, although whether either should have seemed debatable.

Blanchard was clearly struggling with a bad toe (and he’s had a bad ankle all year).  Never the fastest of QBs, he was no threat to run.  Any nominal “option” plays that The Citadel ran with Blanchard in the game were really just handoffs to Terrell Dallas or Van Dyke Jones, and Wofford treated them as such.  He also appeared to be a sitting duck in the pocket.

After the game, according to a story in The Post and Courier, Blanchard was wearing a walking boot in the locker room, just as he had in prior games against Furman and Samford, when he didn’t play.  I’m not sure why he played against Wofford, either.

I appreciated the effort and the determination, though.  Even with a bad wheel, he threw a really impressive pass to Kevin Hardy that would lead to a field goal; I’m not sure all of the fans in the stands appreciated how good a throw that was.  Blanchard did not get much help from his receivers, as there were several dropped passes (a recurring issue for most of the season).

Blanchard was in the game late in the first half when The Citadel got the ball on its own 6 yard line.  There were only 61 seconds left on the clock, and the Bulldogs actually had a little momentum, having scored on their previous drive to cut Wofford’s lead to seven, at 17-10.  The Terriers had just one timeout left, so the Bulldogs could have run out the clock.

However, on first down Blanchard went back to pass and was sacked, fumbling the ball.  Lincoln Kling recovered in the end zone for the Bulldogs, but the result was a safety.  Wofford returned the ensuing free kick to the Bulldog 40 and would eventually kick a field goal to take a 22-10 lead into the locker room.  It was like giving away five free points and all the momentum.  Wofford then got the ball first to open the third quarter, drove right down the field and scored.  Ballgame.

Tommy Edwards replaced Blanchard just before the end of the third quarter, moved the Bulldogs 38 yards in five plays, and then threw an interception.  On the Bulldogs’ next series (now trailing 43-10), Miguel Starks started taking the snaps.  He would lead The Citadel to the game’s final score on his second series of the game.

This I really didn’t understand.  If Starks was injured and couldn’t start, why put him in the game with 10 minutes left and the team trailing by five touchdowns?  I didn’t see the point in that.  If he had been healthy enough to play at all, he should have started over the clearly ailing Blanchard, or come into the game when the outcome was still in doubt.

Kevin Higgins noted that Edwards “doesn’t have much experience at all”, and that’s certainly true, but in retrospect I wonder if it would have been better for all concerned if Edwards had played instead of either Blanchard or Starks.

Of course, I’m just a yokel watching the game.  I don’t have any inside information on what the thinking was regarding playing Blanchard/Edwards/Starks.  It may be that Starks’ injury is the type that won’t get worse, but won’t get much better anytime soon.  If that’s the case, the coaches may have wanted to see what he was capable of doing, so they could take that into account for next week.

To have such a trouncing occur on Homecoming was also a bit dispiriting.  Without the TD at the end of the game, the Bulldogs would have suffered their worst Homecoming loss since 1989.  It’s not the best way to impress visiting alums, that’s for sure.

Things I may or may not have heard in and around the various reunion tents:

  • “Why don’t we run the wishbone?”
  • “Well, we’re a basketball school, anyway.”
  • “Maybe the guys on the team would play better if we rewarded a good season by letting them stay at the beach house during second semester, instead of the barracks.”
  • “How long have we been wearing navy pants?”
  • “Skip the orange juice, just give me what’s left in that bottle.”

A few observations about some off the field issues:

— Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed that a significant number of cadets don’t make it to the game, and I’m not the only one who has spotted this trend.  At Saturday’s game I guesstimated that at least one-third, if not more, of the corps was not in the stands during the game.  Where were they?

This is something that the school administration needs to address before next season.  I know there are some legitimate absences, but the bottom line is that at least 90% of the corps of cadets needs to be in the stands at Johnson Hagood Stadium at every game.  Right now, that’s not happening.

— I’ve said this before, but if I attend too many more games at Johnson Hagood I’m going to eventually go deaf, thanks to the sound system speakers, which, apparently inspired by Spinal Tap, are set at “11”.  At least on this particular Saturday A) the referee’s microphone worked, and B) they didn’t play the “clap your hands” riff as the Bulldogs lined up to punt.

— Video board, good:  the Randy Bresnik message intro was great.  Excellent job setting that up.  I can’t imagine going into outer space.  Of course, I’m not crazy about heights…

— Video board, unintentionally amusing:  the Anthony Maldanado speech (through no fault of his own, of course).  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

— I thought the attendance was okay (Wofford didn’t bring a lot of fans).  Plenty of alums were wandering around, taking in the sights at the almost brand-new stadium, marveling at bathroom facilities that weren’t holdovers from the 19th century.  Everyone was ready to cheer; there just wasn’t anything worth cheering about, at least on the field.

— MVPs for the day, school of business administration:  both the Class of ’59 and the Class of ’69 presented enormous monetary contributions to the school on Saturday.  Major, major thumbs-up for those two classes.  Outstanding.

— MVPs for the day, school of recreation and leisure:  this would go to the Class of ’89, which had a huge throng of partiers at its reunion tent, all of whom appeared to be having a good time.  Great turnout by that group of youngsters.

The Citadel now has two games left on the schedule, road contests against UT-Chattanooga and Georgia Southern.  A winning season is still a possibility, but it will be a tall order to triumph against both an improved Mocs squad and the traditionally tough Eagles.  The Bulldogs will certainly have to play much, much better than they did on Saturday if they hope to win either of those games, much less both of them.