During the 2019 football season, which teams will the Bulldogs’ opponents play before (and after) facing The Citadel?

Other links related to The Citadel’s upcoming gridiron campaign:

2019 preseason rankings and ratings, featuring The Citadel and the rest of the SoCon

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

– Also of note, an interview of new Southern Conference commissioner Jim Schaus by Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. Here is a friendly tip for the incoming commish:  we do not want Tuesday and Wednesday night football games.

Just say no.

For the seventh consecutive season, it is time to comprehensively review this all-important topic!

Below, I’ll list which teams The Citadel’s opponents face before and after playing the Bulldogs. I’ll also discuss other items of varied importance, including schedule-related information, history, trivia, and other completely useless facts. There is also an audience participation segment. You’ve been warned.

For reference purposes, I’ve compiled the master schedule for the SoCon in a Google spreadsheet. I hope this may come in handy for anyone interested:  Link

This year, the Bulldogs will play 12 games, with one bye week. We begin with the opener, which will be held at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium.

August 31: The Citadel opens at home against Towson. The last time the Bulldogs played their opener at home versus a D-1 opponent, in 2015, they defeated Davidson 69-0. My guess is that this game will be more competitive than that one. The Citadel has only played twice on August 31 in its football history, losing both of those contests.

The Tigers were last seen on the gridiron losing at home to Duquesne in the FCS playoffs, 31-10. Towson won its opening game last year against Morgan State, one of seven victories in 2018 for Tom Flacco and company (including a 44-27 win over The Citadel).

After playing the Bulldogs, Towson returns home the following week to face North Carolina Central. On September 14, the Tigers begin CAA play at Maine. The overall schedule for the Tigers looks imposing; it features a game at Florida.

Incidentally, future Towson games versus FBS opponents include road contests against Maryland, West Virginia, and (somewhat curiously) San Diego State. That latter game is scheduled to take place in 2021; even though it is still two years away, I am going to confidently nominate Towson-San Diego State as the most random D-1 matchup for that season.

September 7: The Bulldogs goes on the road to play Elon, the second of four consecutive non-conference matchups for The Citadel to begin the year. The Bulldogs are 1-3 all-time on September 7.

The Citadel last played Elon on November 9, 2013, when the Bulldogs prevailed on the road 35-10. In terms of the calendar, this will be the earliest meeting on the gridiron between the two schools. The only other September encounter was an 18-15 Phoenix victory at Elon on September 24, 2011.

While Elon made the FCS playoffs last season, the Phoenix are looking to break a three-game losing streak that put a damper on the 2018 campaign, including a 19-7 postseason defeat at Wofford. The game against the Bulldogs will be the 2019 home debut for the Phoenix, after an opening game on the road versus MEAC power North Carolina A&T.

Elon starts CAA play the week after facing The Citadel, traveling to Richmond to face the Spiders on September 14. That contest is followed by a matchup at Wake Forest and a home game against James Madison.

Few teams in FCS have a tougher August/September slate than the Phoenix. It is also worth mentioning that Elon has a new head coach — though there is program continuity, with former defensive coordinator Tony Trisciani assuming the role.

Unlike The Citadel, Towson, and many other FCS teams, Elon will only play 11 regular-season games in 2019.

September 14: The Citadel travels to Atlanta to square off against the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech. It will be the Cadets’ first September matchup versus a P5 opponent since 2014 (Florida State).

This date has historically been relatively kind for the Bulldogs, as the program has a 4-1 record on 9/14. On the other hand, The Citadel has never beaten the Yellow Jackets in ten attempts (with the last meeting occurring in 2001).

Georgia Tech opens the post-PJ era with a Thursday night game (on August 29) at Clemson, a difficult way for new head coach Geoff Collins to begin his tenure. After a home game versus South Florida (also a tough test), the Yellow Jackets play The Citadel before a bye week on September 21.

By then, Georgia Tech fans should know just how difficult the transition away from the triple option attack will be.

September 21: The fourth and final regular-season non-conference opponent for the Bulldogs is Charleston Southern. While September 21 was great for Earth, Wind, & Fire, with blue talk and love and a lot of dancing, it hasn’t been a date to remember for The Citadel, which is 1-7-1 all-time on 9/21.

The Bulldogs will try to chase the clouds away for the second year running against the Buccaneers. Last season’s game was postponed from an original September 15 kickoff to November 29, a rare Thursday night game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. The Citadel won 43-14.

Charleston Southern’s 2019 slate begins with a trip to Furman and a game at South Carolina. CSU will host North Carolina A&T the week before it plays The Citadel, and will have a bye week following the game against the Bulldogs.

New CSU head coach Autry Denson may have wished for a more manageable stretch of games to begin his career. He will also be the third straight first-year coach The Citadel will face during this part of the season.

September 28: The Citadel starts SoCon play at Samford. The Cadets are 5-5 on September 28, with the first victory on this date a 1-0 forfeit win over Fort Moultrie in 1912.

In case you were wondering about that one, the soldiers led 13-7 in the 4th quarter when The Citadel scored a tying touchdown. However, before the Bulldogs could kick a PAT that would have given them the lead, Fort Moultrie’s players walked off the field in protest, as they felt the TD had been scored with the help of fan interference.

The opening paragraph of the game story is suggestive:

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

The Charleston Evening Post, September 29, 1912

Samford’s first game of the season will be on August 24, one week before any of its conference brethren, as the Birmingham Bulldogs play Youngstown State in the FCS Kickoff game. That matchup will be held at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

SU then travels to Tennessee Tech on August 31 before enjoying the first of two bye weeks. Samford’s season resumes with a game at Wofford on September 14, followed by three consecutive home games — against Alabama A&M, The Citadel, and Furman.

Samford, like all but two SoCon schools, will play 12 regular-season games in 2019. SU’s final game of the campaign is at Auburn.

October 5: It will be Parents’ Day at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and VMI comes to Charleston. The Citadel is 6-4-1 on October 5, with the tie coming in 1985 — against none other than VMI.

The Keydets open their season at Marshall in the Lee Moon Invitational, followed by a home game versus D-2 Mars Hill. VMI starts its SoCon campaign at East Tennessee State before stepping out of conference again for a game in Lexington versus Robert Morris.

After another home game, this time against Wofford, VMI travels to Charleston for the Military Classic of the South, the legendary battle for the coveted Silver Shako. The Keydets are at home versus Samford the following week, so VMI will have consecutive games against teams called Bulldogs.

VMI plays two FBS games in 2019, with the second a November 16 matchup at Army. The Keydets’ only win in that series came in 1981, coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally) the last time VMI had a winning season on the gridiron.

October 12: The Citadel plays Western Carolina. The program is 6-8 all-time on October 12, with the most notable of the six victories a 20-14 win at Army in 1991.

It was the first time The Citadel had ever defeated the Bulldogs of the Hudson, and it spoiled Homecoming Day at Michie Stadium for the home fans. Jack Douglas and Everette Sands both scored touchdowns, and Rob Avriett kicked two field goals. Meanwhile, the defense forced five turnovers.

Western Carolina opens the 2019 season by hosting Mercer. The Catamounts take on North Carolina State the following week before returning to Cullowhee to face D-2 North Greenville. After a bye week, Western Carolina is at Chattanooga on September 28, and then home to Gardner-Webb the week before playing The Citadel.

For the Catamounts, the game against the Bulldogs is the first of three straight contests versus Palmetto State opposition. On October 19, Western Carolina is at Wofford, and the following week WCU entertains Furman for Homecoming.

Western Carolina finishes the season with a relaxing matchup at Alabama.

In a bit of a scheduling fluke, five of the SoCon’s nine teams are off on October 12. There are two league games, WCU-The Citadel and Samford-VMI. Everyone else is on cruise control.

October 19: One of the teams with a bye week on October 12 is Furman, which will be The Citadel’s opponent on October 19. It will also be the Paladins’ Homecoming.

The Bulldogs are only 4-10 on this date, though one of the wins was a scintillating 66-0 victory over Porter Military Academy. That came in the same year (1912) The Citadel was awarded the aforementioned 1-0 forfeit victory over Fort Moultrie, establishing the Bulldogs as the top football-playing military outfit in the Low Country.

The News and Courier‘s headline above the game story described Porter as ‘plucky’ and also stated that the “game was a good one in spite of the score…Porter played [a] hard game, while Cadets’ work was loose in spots”. Whatever you say, nameless sportswriter (who undoubtedly had a relative playing for Porter).

On the same page of the game story, there was also an advertisement for castor oil with the tagline “Children like it — it does ’em good”. Sure.

Okay, back to the 21st century…

Furman begins its season by hosting Charleston Southern, and then plays consecutive road games against FBS opponents. The Paladins travel to Atlanta to face Georgia State, and then journey to Blacksburg to tangle with Virginia Tech.

FU plays three straight SoCon opponents (Mercer, ETSU, at Samford) before that bye week. After its game versus The Citadel, Furman has two straight road contests, playing Western Carolina on October 26 and Chattanooga the following week.

Furman’s last two regular-season games are at Wofford and home against Point University, an NAIA school located in West Point, Georgia. The Paladins wanted a sixth home game, and wound up with the Skyhawks, which were 3-8 last year.

While there has been some gentle (and not-so-gentle) online mockery of Furman for scheduling that game, I am slightly more sympathetic to the Paladins’ plight — there are limited options when you have an open date the final week of the season. I also have to wonder if the league office could have rearranged the conference slate a little bit in order to help Furman out.

On Point’s website, I noticed that while the football team’s season opener at Kennesaw State (yes, the Skyhawks are playing two FCS teams this year) is just noted as a regular game, the matchup versus the Paladins is listed as an “exhibition game” — at least, for Point. That is something you see occasionally in college hoops when a D-1 squad plays a non-division opponent, but in football it is rather unusual. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen that before for a gridiron matchup.

Also, Point plays its home football games at Ram Stadium, which is located just across the state line in Valley, Alabama.

October 26: Homecoming at The Citadel, for the 92nd time. Mercer will become the Bulldogs’ 18th different Homecoming opponent. The Citadel is 7-6-1 on October 26.

This will be the second time in three seasons The Citadel has played its Homecoming game in October, after 50 straight years of the event being held in November. That is just one of many facts about The Citadel’s Homecoming history you can learn in this inspirational post: Link

Mercer is just one of two SoCon teams that is only playing 11 regular-season games (Wofford is the other). The Bears do have six home games, though.

MU opens at Western Carolina, and then immediately has a bye week prior to its home opener on 9/14 against Austin Peay. The Bears’ other non-conference home game is versus Campbell.

After a second bye week on October 12, Mercer plays consecutive games against military colleges, hosting VMI the week before facing The Citadel. The Bears then have a home game against Samford, so MU will also have two straight games against teams with the nickname “Bulldogs”.

(The “two straight Bulldogs” thing is about to become a theme, so get ready.)

After its own Homecoming against Wofford, Mercer will finish with two straight road games, travelling to East Tennessee State and North Carolina.

November 2: For the third straight week, The Citadel will be involved in a Homecoming game, as the Bulldogs make the journey to Johnson City to play East Tennessee State. On this date, the Bulldogs have an all-time record of 4-6.

ETSU opens the season at Appalachian State, then plays three straight home games, against Shorter (a D-2 school), VMI, and Austin Peay (joining Mercer as one of the two SoCon schools to host the Governors this season).

After a bye week on October 12, the Buccaneers travel to Chattanooga for a Thursday night game, then make the trek to suburban Birmingham to play Samford, prior to the game versus The Citadel. Thus, ETSU will also have consecutive games against teams nicknamed “Bulldogs”.

Following two more league matchups, East Tennessee State will close its regular-season campaign with a game at Vanderbilt.

November 9: Better late than never, The Citadel finally gets a bye week. Ten straight games to open a twelve-game season is less than ideal.

The Bulldogs are the only SoCon team with a bye week in November. Those in charge of scheduling in the league office did The Citadel no favors, to say the least.

November 16: After the week off, The Citadel makes another trip to Tennessee, this time to play Chattanooga.

The Bulldogs are 7-9 on November 16. One of the seven victories for The Citadel was a 3-0 triumph over Clemson in 1916, a contest played on a Thursday afternoon in Orangeburg.

“JOY AND GLADNESS ARE SUPREME HERE” screamed The News and Courier‘s sports headline the following day. The newspaper extolled the virtues of the Bulldogs’ Johnny Weeks, “quarterback extraordinaire and captain unequaled…one of the greatest, if not the greatest gridironists ever turned out by the Marion Square institution.”

The victory all but clinched The Citadel’s second consecutive state championship, as the only remaining game on the Bulldogs’ schedule was against South Carolina, a Thanksgiving Day affair that the newspaper stated for the Gamecocks to win would take “more than a miracle”. (The scribe who penned that sentiment was correct, as The Citadel would go on to defeat South Carolina 20-2.)

Chattanooga has two Thursday night home games this season, its opener against Eastern Illinois and the game versus ETSU that was mentioned earlier in this post. The Mocs arguably have the most difficult non-conference schedule in the league, one that includes road games versus Jacksonville State and Tennessee and a home tilt against James Madison.

Those games are all in a row following the Eastern Illinois game. The Mocs then play two league games before a 10/12 bye week. UTC, like Mercer, has both the “Bulldog double” and the “Military College double”, as it finishes the season with a game at Samford, a home contest versus The Citadel, and then plays at VMI.

Prior to that three-game stretch, Chattanooga has back-to-back games versus Wofford (road) and Furman (home). That is a tough slate, and UTC will also be breaking in a new head coach (Rusty Wright).

Okay, here is the audience participation section of this post. Feel free to skip ahead to November 23 (but let’s be honest; if you’ve somehow come this far, you can read another extra few paragraphs):

The Citadel has played a few Friday night contests in its history, though not many after World War II. Several of them were games played at the Orangeburg County Fair.

I only know of two games played at the “modern” Johnson Hagood Stadium on a Friday. One was against Furman in 1953, and from what I gather was an experiment to see if more people would go to the game. (The answer to that question: uh, no.)

The other was the last game of the 1969 season, versus Chattanooga. I don’t know why that game was played on a Friday.

If anyone reading this does know why, I would appreciate it if you replied to this post with the reason (or you could tweet the explanation to me; just go to @SandlapperSpike).

Thanks in advance. Now to the final regular-season game.

November 23: The twelfth contest of the campaign is a home matchup versus Wofford. The Bulldogs are 6-7 all-time on November 23.

The Terriers are only playing 11 regular-season games, which is not a huge surprise, as Wofford hasn’t played a 12-game regular season schedule since 2002, eschewing four subsequent opportunities to add a 12th game.

Wofford has only five home games, as its three non-conference matchups include two road affairs — the season opener at South Carolina State, and a November 2 game at Clemson. The Terriers’ first bye week immediately follows the SCSU contest.

After the bye week, Wofford hosts Samford and Gardner-Webb before traveling to VMI. The second bye week of the season precedes a Homecoming game versus Western Carolina.

The Terriers finish the regular season with games against Furman and The Citadel (the latter contest in Charleston).

A quick summary:

  • Teams that will have “extra prep time” before playing The Citadel: Furman (and Towson, I suppose)
  • Teams that have road games the week before playing the Bulldogs: Elon, East Tennessee State, Chattanooga
  • Teams that play Wofford during the season before playing The Citadel (“option preview”): Samford, VMI, East Tennessee State, Chattanooga
  • Teams that play Furman during the season before playing the Bulldogs (another type of “option preview”): Charleston Southern, Chattanooga, East Tennessee State, Mercer, Wofford

Getting closer to the opening kickoff…

2019 preseason college football rankings, featuring The Citadel (and the rest of the SoCon)

A few links of interest:

Hero Sports FCS Preseason Top 25 (The Citadel is ranked 25th)

Hero Sports FCS Preseason All-American teams (Bulldogs punter Matthew Campbell in on the third team)

Homecoming at The Citadel — a brief gridiron history

 

It must be June, because the college football preview magazines are on the street. What follows is a quick review of the mags’ rankings from The Citadel’s perspective, with a few other tidbits thrown in for good measure.

Not included in this writeup: my annual look at the preseason Massey Ratings. I’ll discuss those in a future post.

Street & Smith’s FCS top 25 has James Madison at #1, with North Dakota State ranked second. South Dakota State is 3rd, followed by Eastern Washington and Jacksonville State. Four of those five teams were in the magazine’s preseason top 5 last year as well.

Wofford is ranked #8, and Furman is #14. Others of interest: Towson (9th), Elon (18th), and North Carolina A&T (19th).

The magazine’s preseason All-America squad includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger (named the SoCon’s top NFL prospect), East Tennessee State defensive back Tyree Robinson, and Furman specialist Grayson Atkins (honored as a placekicker on this list).

This year’s SoCon preview was authored by Pat Yasinskas, who is currently based in Tampa. In his reportorial career, Yasinskas (a native of Pennsylvania) has primarily written about the NFL, covering the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer and the NFC South for ESPN.com.

To be honest, I am unsure how much time the graduate of Saint Leo University has spent following the Southern Conference. I found two twitter accounts for him, both inactive.

At any rate, the league preseason rankings for S&S:

1 – Wofford
2 – Furman
3 – East Tennessee State
4 – Chattanooga
5 – Mercer
6 – Samford
7 – The Citadel
8 – Western Carolina
9 – VMI

With regards to The Citadel, Yaskinskas writes that the Bulldogs have “a chance to be competitive, mainly because 10 starters return on offense. The development of quarterback Brandon Rainey will be a key.” He also references new defensive coordinator Tony Grantham and linebacker Willie Eubanks III.

Charleston Southern is projected to finish third in the Big South. Monmouth is the pick to win that league instead of Kennesaw State, which might raise a few eyebrows (and the Owls did not make Street & Smith‘s preseason top 25).

Towson is ranked second in the CAA, while Elon is picked to finish fifth.

S&S has South Carolina State finishing fourth in the MEAC, with North Carolina A&T the favorite in that conference. Other top-dog choices in FCS leagues include Eastern Washington, James Madison, Princeton, North Dakota State, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Colgate, San Diego, and Nicholls.

In the shadowy world of FBS, Georgia Tech (which will host The Citadel on September 14) is projected to finish last in the ACC’s Coastal Division.

Lindy’s ranks North Dakota State #1 in its FCS preseason poll. The rest of its top 5:  South Dakota State, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville State, and UC Davis.

Wofford is ranked #13, East Tennessee State #17, and Furman #20. Other teams of note include Towson (6th) and North Carolina A&T (22nd).

The Lindy’s preseason first team All-America squad for the FCS includes Tyrie Adams of Western Carolina, who is listed not as a quarterback but as an all-purpose player. Two ETSU defensive stalwarts, defensive lineman Nasir Player and the aforementioned Tyree Robinson, are also on the first team. (Player is a product of Ridge View High School in Columbia.)

Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is the magazine’s first-team quarterback and its preseason MVP for the entire division. His teammate, placekicker Aidan O’Neill, is also on the first team.

The magazine also has a preseason second team, which includes Wofford offensive lineman Justus Basinger and Furman “bandit” linebacker Adrian Hope. Towson running back/kick returner Shane Simpson is the all-purpose designee on the second team.

The national preview (which focuses on North Dakota State) was written by George Gordon. I could not find any background information on him. I am assuming he is not related to any of the Civil War/British generals who also share his name; he presumably has no association with well-known law enforcement officer James W. Gordon or noted library sciences advocate Barbara Gordon, either.

The preseason SoCon rankings, per Lindy’s:

1 – Wofford
2 – East Tennessee State
3 – Furman
4 – Samford
5 – Mercer
6 – Chattanooga
7 – Western Carolina
8 – The Citadel
9 – VMI

A brief blurb about The Citadel in the magazine states that defensive lineman Joseph Randolph II is “one of the league’s underrated players”.

On the one hand, ETSU is picked to finish higher in the league standings by Lindy’s than just about any other source. On the other, the magazine references Logan Marchi as returning at quarterback for the Buccaneers, which will not be the case.

Charleston Southern is the preseason #5 team in the Big South, while South Carolina State is picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.

Teams expected by Lindy’s to win their respective FCS leagues include Colgate, Duquesne, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, Nicholls, North Carolina A&T, North Dakota State, Princeton, San Diego, Southern, Towson, and UC Davis.

Georgia Tech is picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal Division, and is ranked the #90 FBS team overall.

As was the case last year, Athlon does not have an FCS conference preview section. Craig Haley of STATS FCS Football has again written the magazine’s national preview of the division, with a Top 25 ranking list, an All-America team, and projected playoff qualifiers. The entire section takes up only four pages in Athlon‘s 304-page tome.

Haley’s top 5: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Eastern Washington, and UC Davis.

Wofford is 10th in this poll, and Furman is 16th. Those two teams are the only SoCon squads projected to make the FCS playoffs, and their meeting in Spartanburg on November 16 is one of ten “must-see matchups” listed by the magazine.

Also ranked:  Towson (#11) and Elon (#21). Both are also expected to advance to postseason play as at-large picks out of the CAA, with James Madison the pick to win that league. Other conference favorites include Colgate, Duquesne, Eastern Washington, Jacksonville State, Kennesaw State, North Dakota State, Nicholls, San Diego, and North Carolina A&T.

Athlon‘s preseason All-America team features just one SoCon player, with Nasir Player of ETSU again receiving recognition from a major publication. As was the case with Lindy’s, Towson’s Aidan O’Neill is the placekicker.

Georgia Tech fares no better in Athlon than it does in Street & Smith‘s or Lindy’s, as the Yellow Jackets are picked to occupy the cellar of the ACC Coastal Division (with a 4-8 overall record). The preseason national FBS ranking for Georgia Tech by the magazine is #75.

A couple of other notes:

– Phil Steele is not releasing an FCS preview magazine this season. I think the nation will survive.

– Athlon features a list of “The 100 Twitter Accounts to Follow” for college football. Shockingly, @SandlapperSpike did not make the cut. Clearly this an outrage.

While quite a few individuals on Athlon‘s list are represented on my own timeline, there are several people mentioned by the magazine that you couldn’t pay me to follow — in particular, the business/media analysis twitter picks, namely the deadly duo of Darren Rovell and Richard Deitsch. Frankly, life is too short to follow either one of those two killjoys.

Finally, my favorite tweet over the last week or so:

2018 Football, Game 7: The Citadel vs. Furman

Rarely does a football team live up to its nickname the way The Citadel’s gritty squad did at Johnson Hagood Stadium Saturday afternoon. They don’t call them the Bulldogs for nothing.

Third-string quarterback Joe Sumrall, pressed into action by a rash of injuries, directed Bobby Ross’ team to one first-half touchdown and freshman running back Alvin Perkins exploded 54 yards for another. Handed that cushion, The Citadel defense then hung on to take a 13-9 victory over arch-rival Furman.

“I’ve never been as proud of a team as I am of this one today,” said a relieved Ross afterwards. “We were depleted by injuries, and some other guys were playing hurt. But these kids have shown a lot of spunk all season.”

The Post and Courier, November 16, 1975

The Citadel vs. Furman, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 2:00 pm ET on October 27, 2018.

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

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

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Furman

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 10/23 press conference

– Brent Thompson’s 10/24 radio show (video)

The Citadel’s oldest fan (presumably) is 101 years old; she watches the Bulldogs while drinking rum and Coke

Bulldogs outlast VMI, retain the coveted Silver Shako

“The Heat” — VMI game (video)

Zane Najdawi a preseason all-conference selection for the Bulldogs; hoopsters picked to finish 6th in the SoCon by the coaches

“Meet the Bulldogs” basketball event to be held outside of Gate 2 at Johnson Hagood Stadium

– Furman enters “must win” portion of the season

This is Hall of Fame weekend at The Citadel. Originally, it was supposed to take place on the weekend of the Charleston Southern game, but then that matchup got postponed due to Hurricane Florence.

This year’s inductees include basketball player Cameron Wells, wrestler Odie Delaney, baseball pitcher Brian Rogers, football player Gene Brown, and honorary enshrinee LTG Claudius “Bud” Watts III, the former school president.

It is an excellent class, but since this is a post that is mostly about football, allow me to single out Gene Brown for a moment. I’m very glad to see him honored; if anything, his election was overdue:

  • Brown was named the Southern Conference’s offensive player of the week four times in 1988. No other Bulldog football player has ever been honored that many times by the SoCon in one season. Brian Ruff was the league’s defensive player of the week three times in both 1975 and 1976; Stump Mitchell, Jack Douglas, and Everette Sands each had three conference offensive player of the week nods in one season (in 1980, 1990, and 1992, respectively). That is an extremely impressive group of players, and Brown actually went one better than all of them.
  • His most critical performance that year came in The Citadel’s 20-3 victory over then-#1 Marshall. On one of the grand occasions in the history of Johnson Hagood Stadium, Brown returned from injury to lead the Bulldogs to a victory as memorable as any football game ever played on the peninsula. Do you remember the goalposts? I do…
  • Besides all-conference and SoCon Offensive Player of the Year honors, Gene Brown was also named the South Carolina State Player of the Year for the 1988 season. He became just the third Bulldog to receive that designation, after Andrew Johnson and Brian Ruff (who picked up that honor twice).
  • He had 286 yards against VMI in the Oyster Bowl! On only 15 carries!
  • That win over Navy at Johnson Hagood Stadium was quite nice, too.

To more than a few observers, the 1988 season marked a turning point in Bulldog football. Supporters and players came to understand that, even in the “modern era” of college football, The Citadel could do more than just compete on the gridiron — the Bulldogs could win, and win big, and with a lot of style. The program’s identity (then and now) as an option team was solidified during that campaign.

The architect of that change in outlook was Charlie Taaffe. The player who best illustrated Taaffe’s vision, and who first demonstrated its power, was Gene Brown.

Saturday will also be Military Appreciation Day at The Citadel (well, the football promotion version; after all, every day is military appreciation day at The Citadel). When Furman last visited Johnson Hagood Stadium, in 2016, it was also Military Appreciation Day. Expect the usual festivities associated with the event; the “Block C” logo at midfield already sports red, white, and blue coloring.

Before getting too far into this week’s preview, I wanted to briefly discuss the victory over VMI. Obviously, retaining the coveted Silver Shako was paramount, and the team succeeded in getting the job done.

That said, it wasn’t a perfect performance by any means. The Bulldogs still have issues that need to be fixed if they want to have a strong finish to the 2018 campaign.

When asked on his radio show about where the team could take away from the win over the Keydets, Brent Thompson mentioned “figuring out a way to win” (not a small thing, given the Bulldogs’ close losses this season). He also stated The Citadel had “played well at times on defense” and that he was pleased with some of the adjustments made on the offensive line.

Offensively, the Bulldogs finally produced some big running plays, including Jordan Black’s 71-yard TD dash in the third quarter.

The Citadel had three 20+ yard rushes versus VMI, which increased The Citadel’s total number this season of such running plays in SoCon action to seven. Those three plays included two touchdowns; the third long run led to a field goal.

I was slightly disappointed in the way the game ended from the Bulldogs’ perspective. The offense had a chance to essentially ice the game twice, and failed to do so. The defense allowed a big play TD in the fourth quarter, and later gave up a potential tying touchdown on a last-gasp drive by VMI.

The Citadel did enough to win the game, particularly on special teams, where the Bulldogs had a huge edge in the contest. Despite that, the Bulldogs still gave the Keydets a chance to force overtime. That isn’t the ideal recipe for long-term success.

However, you have to give the opponent credit too, even one that hasn’t won a game in a while.

Before the season began, I thought VMI might be truly atrocious, perhaps one of the very worst teams in all of FCS. While the Keydets haven’t been good, they are considerably more competitive than I expected.

VMI has played six league contests. In four of those, the Keydets lost by 3 or fewer points, and they could have easily won three of the matchups. Reece Udinski is a good quarterback, and he has a few playmakers with which to work. Defensively, VMI has really struggled, but opponents still have earn their points against them.

When VMI finally breaks through and wins a game, I think the team that loses to them will be very unhappy — but the squad that plays the Keydets in the following game shouldn’t be all that excited, either.

This is the first time since 2012 that The Citadel has played VMI and Furman in back-to-back weeks. That year, the Bulldogs defeated VMI 27-24 in Lexington, and followed that up with a 42-20 triumph over Furman in Greenville.

Before then, you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time The Citadel played the Keydets and Paladins in consecutive games. That season, the Bulldogs beat VMI 50-0 at Johnson Hagood Stadium, then won 20-14 at Furman to clinch the Southern Conference title.

Future scheduling report: Furman has the following games lined up against FBS opponents:

  • 2019: Georgia State and Virginia Tech (remember, next year FCS teams can play 12 regular-season games)
  • 2020: Tennessee
  • 2021: North Carolina State
  • 2022: Clemson
  • 2024: Mississippi
  • 2025: Clemson

The Citadel’s future FBS foes (so far) look like this:

  • 2019: Georgia Tech
  • 2020: Clemson
  • 2021: Coastal Carolina
  • 2024: Clemson
  • 2025: Mississippi

Clemson and Mississippi are basically switching out the two SoCon schools as their respective FCS matchups in 2024 and 2025.

As for non-conference FCS opponents over the next five years: Furman currently has scheduled matchups with Colgate (two games) and Kennesaw State; in addition, Clay Hendrix stated this week on his radio show that the Paladins will face Charleston Southern next year in Greenville.

Meanwhile, The Citadel will play Towson, Elon (two games), Charleston Southern (three games), and Campbell (two games). Both schools have slots available to add other non-conference contests.

From the preview of the game on Furman’s website:

The game will mark the 98th meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs in a series that began in 1913 and has been played annually since 1919, with a brief three-year cessation from 1943-45 when the two schools closed ranks with the rest of America and the Allies to fight Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito in World War II.

I couldn’t help but notice this blurb. For one thing, “Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito” is a phrase doesn’t make a lot of game previews. However, Furman used the same line in its game notes for the 2015 matchup.

The Citadel won that contest 38-17, spoiling Furman’s Homecoming, so perhaps history can repeat itself.

Furman is 2-4 overall so far this season, 2-2 in the Southern Conference. The Paladins had a very tough start to their 2018 campaign, beginning with a 48-7 loss to Clemson.

The loss to the Tigers was predictable, but a 45-7 beatdown at the hands of Elon the following week was not. The two teams had split their matchups the previous season, with the Paladins prevailing in a playoff game.

In this contest, though, the Phoenix had more rushing yards (275) than Furman had total yards (262). Elon added 173 yards passing, while the Paladins committed three turnovers and were never really in the game.

FU’s would-be first home game of the season (against Colgate) was cancelled, thanks to Hurricane Florence. The next Saturday, the Paladins blew a 27-6 second-half lead and lost at East Tennessee State, 29-27. The winning points for the Buccaneers came on a late-game safety with the score tied, something you don’t see every day.

Furman rebounded the following week, outlasting Western Carolina 44-38. It was the Paladins’ first home game of the season (on September 29), and the team responded by jumping out to a 31-10 lead, then hanging on down the stretch to pick up the victory. The game was filled with numerous big plays, including a kickoff return for a touchdown by FU’s Dejuan Bell.

After a bye, the Paladins then played their best game of the season, defeating Wofford 34-14. Starting quarterback Harris Roberts threw for three touchdown passes and rushed for two others. The Paladins’ defense kept the Terriers’ offense in check, in large part by getting off the field on third down (Wofford was only 3 for 11 converting third down attempts).

Last week, Samford defeated Furman 38-25. The Paladins led 19-9 early in the third quarter, but Samford proceeded to score four TDs in less than eleven minutes of game action to put the game away. The key play was a 58-yard fumble return for a touchdown by SU defensive lineman Ahmad Gooden.

Despite the loss, the most impressive performer during the game was arguably Furman placekicker/punter Grayson Atkins, who kicked three field goals of 50 or more yards, and averaged 45.8 yards on six punts.

Furman’s regular starting quarterback is Harris Roberts (6’4″, 209 lbs.), a redshirt senior from Cumming, Georgia. For the season, Roberts is 37-54 passing, with four TDs against two interceptions, averaging an outstanding 10.1 yards per attempt (this does not account for sacks).

The problem for the Paladins has been keeping Roberts on the field. He missed much of the Clemson game, all of the Elon game, and left the Samford game last week early in that contest.

Whether or not he plays this Saturday is a big question, and Furman is trying to keep The Citadel guessing. FU’s depth chart lists four potential starters at quarterback.

Everyone knows that when a team has two quarterbacks, it really has none. What everyone doesn’t know is that if a team has four quarterbacks, it really has -2.

Redshirt senior Kealand Dirks (6’0″, 250 lbs.) was a preseason first-team all-SoCon pick, after being a second-team selection following last season. Dirks is averaging 3.6 yards per carry this year after averaging 4.7 yards per rush in 2017.

Devin Wynn (6’0″, 195 lbs.) has just as many carries this year as Dirks, but has gained 118 more yards. The sophomore tailback got his first start last week versus Samford, running for 83 yards on 13 rushes.

Junior flanker Thomas Gordon (6’0″”, 174 lbs.) leads the team in receptions, with sixteen. Gordon, a preseason second-team all-league choice, is averaging 16.2 yards per catch; he had a 77-yard touchdown catch against Samford.

Although listed as a backup, another receiver to watch is Dejuan Bell (5’9″, 160 lbs.), a freshman from North Augusta who was a high school track star. As noted in the overview of Furman’s season, Bell returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Carolina. He also had a 45-yard TD reception in that game.

Although he only has two receptions this season, by rule I have to mention Furman’s starting tight end, who will traditionally be seen running wide open across the middle of the field at least three times during this game. Jake Walker (6’4″, 228 lbs.), a sophomore, was a preseason second-team all-conference selection.

Furman’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’4″, 283 lbs. Left guard Reed Kroeber (6’4″, 286 lbs.), a versatile lineman who began the year as the center (and who has also played tackle for the Paladins) was a preseason second-team all-league pick, and the redshirt sophomore arguably should have been on the preseason first team.

The linchpin of Furman’s defensive unit is senior noseguard Jaylan Reid (5’11”, 278 lbs.), who has started 36 games for the Paladins during his college career. Reid was a second-team all-conference choice after last season; it is a testament to how many outstanding defensive linemen there are in the league that Reid did not make first team, because he is really good.

Elijah McKoy (6’2″, 225 lbs.) leads the team in tackles, with 56. The sophomore linebacker was a preseason first-team All-SoCon pick. He also has one of the Paladins’ three interceptions this season.

Middle linebacker Donavan Perryman (6’2″, 225 lbs.) has 46 stops on the campaign. Perryman is a sophomore from Rock Hill.

Although not listed as a starter, Adrian Hope (6’1″, 218 lbs.) warrants mentioning. He has seven sacks from the “Bandit” position (including three against Wofford). Hope is a redshirt freshman from Ocala, Florida, who had 56 career sacks in high school.

Aaquil Annoor (5’10”, 178 lbs.) was a second-team all-conference pick after last season, and the senior from Nashville was a preseason first-team selection this year. The strong safety has 31 career starts.

As discussed earlier, Grayson Atkins (5’10”, 187 lbs.) handles both the placekicking and punting duties for the Paladins, and handles them very well. The sophomore from Inman is 7 for 9 on field goal tries this year, with his two misses from 48 and 50 yards, and the three aforementioned makes of 50+. Atkins also handles kickoffs, and has a touchback rate of 51.6%.

Besides returning kicks, Dejuan Bell is now listed as the primary punt returner for Furman.

Evan Vaughn (6’2″, 227 lbs.) is in his third season as the Paladins’ long snapper. He is a junior from Honea Path.

Reese Vita (6’1″, 203 lbs.), the holder on placements, is a redshirt junior quarterback from Sarasota. He somehow was not listed as a potential starting QB on Furman’s depth chart this week, surely a missed opportunity.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Charleston, per the National Weather Service:  mostly cloudy, with a 20% chance of showers, and highs in the upper 60s.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Furman is a 7-point favorite over The Citadel, with an over/under of 54 1/2.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is a 9-point favorite over Mercer; VMI is a 17 1/2 point underdog at Chattanooga; and East Tennessee State is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina.

Samford is off this week.

Those lines are all as of Thursday evening.

– Also of note:  Towson is a 1-point underdog at Delaware, while Charleston Southern is a 23-point underdog against Kennesaw State.

Alabama is off this week, preparing for its November 3 contest at LSU — a night game in Baton Rouge.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 63rd in FCS. Furman is ranked 44th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have a 40% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of Furman 31, The Citadel 28.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (8th), Elon (12th), Colgate (14th), Kennesaw State (18th), Yale (21st), Wofford (26th), Samford (34th), Chattanooga (36th), North Carolina A&T (43rd), Mercer (48th), East Tennessee State (49th), San Diego (62nd), Charleston Southern (79th), Western Carolina (85th), Savannah State (99th), South Carolina State (101st), VMI (105th), Hampton (109th), Presbyterian (116th), Gardner-Webb (117th), Davidson (118th), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, Dartmouth, Northern Iowa, and South Dakota State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida, Iowa, and Ohio State. Some other notables:  Texas is 12th, UCF 13th, Texas A&M 14th, North Carolina State 18th, Missouri 21st, Auburn 23rd, Mississippi State 25th, South Carolina 27th, Duke 33rd, Boston College 34th, Virginia 36th, Appalachian State 37th, Army 39th, Virginia Tech 46th, Tennessee 52nd, Florida State 53rd, Maryland 55th, Vanderbilt 61st, Georgia Tech 66th, Wake Forest 67th, North Texas 76th, Georgia Southern 81st, Air Force 83rd, Toledo 86th, Arkansas 93rd, North Carolina 95th, Coastal Carolina 100th, Navy 104th, Liberty 106th, Old Dominion 113th, Charlotte 118th, UTEP 130th and last.

– Among Furman’s notable alumni:  philologist Maurice Bloomfield, opera singer Elizabeth Bishop, and soccer player/fisherman/rapper Clint Dempsey.

– Furman’s roster includes 35 players from Georgia. Other states represented on its squad:  North Carolina (15 players), South Carolina (15), Tennessee (10), Florida (9), Alabama (6), Maryland (4), Ohio (2), and Virginia (1).

While Furman has 15 players who attended 14 different high schools in South Carolina (two Paladins went to Dreher), none of them are graduates of legendary gridiron steamroller Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is a staggering omission that will undoubtedly have a permanently negative impact on the FU football program, and for that matter the university as a whole. Ignoring the mighty maroon and orange is no way to run an institution.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is very similar to the one released for the VMI game. There are two changes, both due to an injury to Rod Johnson, who may not play the rest of the season. As a result, Khafari Buffalo is listed as one of the Bulldogs’ two kick returners, while Dante Smith is now a potential starter at one of the A-back positions.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-8-1 for games played on October 27. The Bulldogs are 5-1-1 at home on that date. A brief review of a few of the contests, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1951:  Before a Parents’ Day crowd of 6,085, The Citadel defeated Presbyterian 35-0. Starting quarterback Buddy Friedlin ran for two touchdowns, including a 62-yard sprint down the sideline. Other Bulldogs to score that day: Rudy Willcox, Curtis Bozeman, and Johnny Mamajek (who rushed for 121 yards on 15 carries). The game was described as a “rough and tumble” affair and featured a post-game fistfight between two opposing linemen.
  • 1984:  In Boone, North Carolina, The Citadel beat Appalachian State 21-5, the fourth straight victory for the Bulldogs. While the Mountaineers outgained the Bulldogs, four turnovers by App State proved costly. Cliff Walters intercepted a pass to set up one TD, and another Bulldogs score came after Warren McGrier recovered a fumbled punt. Robert Hill threw a touchdown pass to Victor Frazier and ran for another; the third TD for The Citadel came on a run by Mike Lewis.
  • 1990:  One week following the Bulldogs’ upset of South Carolina, Jack Douglas ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-15 victory over East Tennessee State. The 200 yards rushing would prove to be a career high for Douglas, who also threw a pass to Cornell Caldwell for 64 yards. Others scoring TDs for The Citadel that day: Erick Little and Everette Sands. Torrence Forney, fresh off the most famous recovered onside kick in Bulldog history, intercepted two passes. Attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium that afternoon: 13,217.

– Kickoff for that 1990 contest was at the somewhat unusual time of 4:00 pm ET. The Citadel experimented with that start time for a few games. Why, you ask?

Well, according a newspaper column by the estimable Ken Burger, the Downtown Merchants Association complained to the school that earlier kickoff times were hurting downtown businesses, while the Restaurant Association claimed night games had a negative effect on the local dinner trade.

You just can’t please everybody.

– The excerpt from The Post and Courier at the top of this post is from the game story of The Citadel’s 13-9 win over Furman in 1975. I just wanted to note that, despite neither team being in contention for a league crown, the article was on page A-1 of the newspaper. The front page also featured a large photo of a play from the game.

Attendance that afternoon (it was Homecoming): 17,345. Defensive stars from the game for the Bulldogs included Brian Ruff (nine tackles, two fumble recoveries), Tony Starks, and Ron Shelley. The Citadel clinched the victory when Cary Vick forced a fumble on a sack, which was recovered by David Sollazzo.

– Completed unrelated to sports, and maybe anything else: While researching this post, I learned that for the 1951-52 school year, The Citadel’s appropriation from the state was $825,000.

Last year against Furman, the Bulldogs played their poorest game in several seasons. It was disappointing, and unacceptable.

I don’t know if The Citadel will win this week, but I am very confident that the squad will put in a much better performance than it did last season.

Whatever happens at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday, we’ll be watching.

2018 Football, Game 6: The Citadel vs. VMI

Scenes of rare color preceded the game. As the crowd filled in every gate four bands played, and sailors from the destroyer squadrons, soldiers from Fort Moultrie, and The Citadel cadet corps marched into the stadium.

The blue-clad cadets spread out in front of the stands in regiment [order] and gave cheers for The Citadel team. All the while hundreds of mere civilians were swarming into the seats on four sides of the field. As soon as the cadets were seated they began their songs and cheers.

The VMI squad could be seen outside the stadium as it waited to enter, their red jerseys glistening in the sun. The four bands vied with each other. One Citadel cheerleader led a vicious-looking bulldog along the sidelines in front of the cadets. The crowd was tense and seemingly impatient for the arrival of the teams.

The VMI team entered the field by the Sumter Street gate and was given a big hand by the crowd as it started across the field to the bench, led by the towering captain, Roy Dunn…they had the field to themselves for ten minutes before The Citadel squad arrived, and got a resounding ovation.

The News and Courier, October 12, 1930

 

The Citadel vs. VMI, to be played on Alumni Memorial Field at Foster Stadium in Lexington, Virginia, with kickoff at 1:30 pm ET on Saturday, October 20.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3, and is also available via ESPN College Extra. Wade Branner will handle play-by-play, while Chip Tarkenton supplies the analysis. 

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

Luke Mauro (the new “Voice of the Bulldogs”) calls the action alongside analyst Cal McCombs. The sideline reporter will be Jay Harper.

The Citadel Sports Network — 2018 radio affiliates

Charleston: WQNT 1450AM/92.1 FM/102.1 FM (Flagship)
Columbia: WQXL 1470AM/100.7FM
Greenville: WLFJ 92.9FM/660AM
Sumter: WDXY 1240AM/105.9FM

Links of interest:

– Game preview in The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and VMI

– SoCon weekly release

– Preview on The Citadel’s website

– AFCA Coaches’ poll

– Brent Thompson’s 10/16 press conference (video)

– Brent Thompson’s 10/17 radio show (video)

Brent Thompson would like one play back from the ETSU game

VMI hopes “Air Raid” can outmatch the Bulldogs’ ground game

Radio interview of VMI coach Scott Wachenheim on “The Game of the Year”

– My review of last year’s game between The Citadel and VMI

As was the case last week, Saturday’s game broadcast has been picked up as part of the ESPN College Extra set of games. What that means: if you have DirecTV, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-Verse, or Spectrum, you may be able to watch the game on a “regular” channel, depending on the extent of the package you have with your respective provider.

On DirecTV, for example, the game will be on channel 792. If you have AT&T U-Verse, check channels 614 through 621; the matchup should be on one of those channels. For Verizon FIOS, the ESPN College Extra channels are 821 through 828. Spectrum’s ECE channels are 505 through 512.

The newspaper blurb that opened this post is from the play-by-play of the 1930 game between The Citadel and VMI, the third meeting in the series and the first to take place in Charleston. It was also Homecoming at The Citadel.

The Bulldogs won that day, 7-6, when captain “Pop” Wilson threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Larkin Jennings. Wilson added the extra point (on a drop kick) to provide the winning margin. VMI had taken the lead on a touchdown earlier in the game, but the Keydets’ PAT attempt was blocked by Bulldog end John Carlisle.

A throng of 7,000 spectators watched the battle between the military colleges, the largest crowd to watch a football game in Charleston at that time.

Before moving to this week’s preview of The Citadel-VMI, I wanted to briefly discuss a couple of aspects of the ETSU game.

– The two fourth-down plays in the first half that the Bulldogs failed to convert were very reasonable calls. I agreed with going for it on both occasions. You could perhaps argue about the actual play calls, but The Citadel had been successful in previous weeks running similar stuff on fourth and short.

I might have done something differently (a pass play, for instance), but I’m not going to quibble about that kind of thing. The fourth down plays didn’t work out; that does not mean the decision to go for them was wrong.

– In one sense, “the numbers didn’t add up” in the game versus East Tennessee State. Yes, the Bulldogs had 167 more yards and ran 26 more plays. However, a closer look at the statistics shows something else.

On offense, The Citadel averaged only 4.07 yards per rush (in all the stats to follow, sacks and sack yardage are taken out). That isn’t a dominant performance, particularly when the Bulldogs only rushed for a total of 216 yards.

While the passing yardage came in handy, that’s obviously not the Bulldogs’ bread and butter.

Just as a reminder, The Citadel’s yards per rush in SoCon play over the previous three seasons:

  • 2015: 5.57 yards per rush
  • 2016: 5.28 yards per rush
  • 2017: 5.24 yards per rush

So far in 2018, the Bulldogs are averaging 4.33 yards per rush in SoCon action.

What is the difference? Well, I think a large part of the problem is the lack of “big plays” in the running game. Defining a big play as one of 20 or more yards from scrimmage, The Citadel’s totals in league games over the past three years:

  • 2015: 19
  • 2016: 15
  • 2017: 21

In four conference matchups thus far in 2018, the Bulldogs have only four rushes of 20 or more yards.

Three of them were against Mercer (and as it happens, The Citadel won that game). The other came on the last play of the first half of the Wofford game, when Lorenzo Ward picked up 43 yards while the Terriers were in “safe mode” on defense.

The Citadel has to break a long gainer in the run game more often. It is very hard to drive the field solely in 3- and 4-yard increments.

– Defensively, the Bulldogs did a lot of things right against ETSU, but they missed a few chances at sacks (one of which resulted in the Buccaneers’ biggest offensive play of the game) and, perhaps more importantly, they did not force a turnover.

The Citadel has only forced two fumbles in four SoCon games. One came on a punt against Wofford, when the ball bounced off one of the Terriers’ blocking backs (which isn’t really much of a “forced” fumble, if we’re being honest). The other was a strip sack versus Mercer that somehow wound up resulting in a first down for the Bears.

In terms of pass defense, league opponents have the following line: 60-94 (63.8% completion rate), six touchdowns, four interceptions. Taking out sacks, the Bulldogs are allowing 7.87 yards per attempt. The Citadel’s passes defensed rate is 14.9%. The PD rate is fine, but the yards per attempt number is too high. Of course, sample size has to be considered.

Simply put, the Bulldogs have to pick up a few more defensive turnovers.

At the end of this post, I’ve included photos from the ETSU game. They aren’t very good. You’ve been warned.

VMI has yet to win a game this season. The Keydets did not win a game last season.

The difference is that at least this year, VMI has occasionally been entertaining. In 2017, VMI only scored 8.0 points per game, worst in all of FCS.

Head coach Scott Wachenheim decided to do something about that — namely, switching to the “Air Raid” offense. He hired a new offensive coordinator (Brian Sheppard, who had been at Northern Arizona), and so far this season the Keydets have been unleashing flying pigskins all over an unsuspecting Shenandoah Valley.

VMI is averaging over 58 pass attempts per game. Over 72% of the Keydets’ offensive plays from scrimmage have been throws or sacks.

Has it worked? Well…sort of. VMI is averaging 25.2 points per game, which is a vast improvement over last season. However, the Keydets tend to leave their defense on the field a lot (a time of possession shortfall of over five minutes), and the defense is not nearly good enough to handle the load. VMI is allowing 54.2 points per contest.

One caveat: the defense has been slightly more respectable at home than on the road. VMI lost a tough matchup to ETSU earlier this season (27-24), so any Bulldog fan who might be overconfident about Saturday’s game might want to think again. The Keydets also competed well versus Mercer, losing 48-38.

Now, the defense has been a complete horror show away from Lexington (allowing 66, 59, 52, and 73 points, the latter coming last week against Devlin Hodges and Samford). However, this year’s edition of the Military Classic of the South is at Foster Stadium, so perhaps those results aren’t as important or revealing.

Do I think an aerial attack can work long-term at a military school? Not really. Am I going to be critical of VMI for trying it, given the way the last three decades on the gridiron have gone for the Keydets? Absolutely not.

Hey, you never know. It might work. Something has to work eventually, right?

Before I highlight a few of VMI’s key performers, I want to mention something that is actually listed below in the “odds and ends” section, as one of the regular features of that part of the weekly post.

VMI has 86 players on its roster. Of that group, 63 are from Virginia, which is 73% of the squad.

In terms of roster makeup, that is the largest instate cohort in the league, and only Mercer (69%) is even close to having a similar percentage of players from its “home” state. However, MU is in Georgia, and can pick and choose from a large number of talented high school players. Bobby Lamb recruits heavily from Georgia by choice.

Meanwhile, VMI’s emphasis on Virginia players is apparently due more to an administrative policy. If so, having roster construction limited in that fashion has to be rather difficult on the coaching staff.

Reece Udinski (6’4″, 224 lbs.) is the pilot of VMI’s “Air Raid” attack. The sophomore from North Wales, Pennsylvania has completed 55.6% of his passes, averaging 5.8 yards per attempt, with 11 TDs against 10 interceptions.

In the Keydets’ 52-50 loss at Western Carolina, Udinski was 43 for 72 for 491 passing yards, all school records. He also threw four touchdown passes in that contest. The following week, Udinski threw for 434 yards against Mercer. Two weeks, 925 passing yards. Not bad.

Quan Myers (5’10”, 200 lbs.), a redshirt junior from Altavista, Virginia, leads VMI in rushing attempts (80) and yards (228). While averaging only 2.8 yards per carry, he does have seven rushing TDs. He is also the Keydets’ third-leading receiver.

Seventeen different Keydets have caught passes this season. The two leading receivers are redshirt sophomore Kris Thornton (5’8″, 164 lbs.), who has 45 catches, and junior Javeon Lara (6’2″, 188 lbs.), who has 37 receptions. Lara is averaging over 15 yards per catch and has 5 TDs. Thornton had six receptions versus The Citadel in last season’s meeting.

If you’re a fan of offensive skill position players wearing single-digit numerals, VMI is the team for you. Udinski wears #2; Myers, #3; Thornton, #1; and Lara, #7.

Wideout Rohan Martin (5’10”, 181 lbs.), who is also VMI’s primary punt returner, wears #5, and jack-of-all-trades Jake Paladino (a backup QB, punter, tight end, and the Keydets’ holder on placekicks) sports jersey #4.

When The Citadel last appeared at Foster Stadium, in 2016, Paladino entered the game in relief at quarterback and played quite well (completing 9 of 13 passes, including one for a TD).

Average size of VMI’s projected starters on the offensive line: 6’4″, 294 lbs. Manning the left tackle spot is Marshall Gill (6’4″, 270 lbs.), a “true” freshman from West Point, Virginia. Gill has started every game for the Keydets at that position.

Gill is the youngest of a very young unit. The other starters include three redshirt sophomores and a “true” sophomore.

Strong safety A.J. Smith (6’2″, 204 lbs.) is the Keydets’ leading tackler, with 46 stops. The sophomore from Virginia Beach also has two pass breakups.

Inside linebacker Elliott Brewster (6’2″, 220 lbs.) has 45 tackles this year for VMI. Last week against Samford, Brewster had 11 tackles and an interception, which is about as good an afternoon a linebacker can have for a team that gave up 73 points.

In his bio on VMI’s website, it is stated that Uzoma Kpaduwa “will likely be a defensive back for his senior season”, understandable given his size (5’10”, 190 lbs.). However, Kpaduwa has started five games at outside linebacker for the Keydets. He is tied for third on the team in tackles.

Free safety Ethan Caselberry (6’4″, 201 lbs.), a freshman from Sparkman, Alabama, had 10 tackles versus Samford. He is tied with Kpaduwa in tackles for the season (42).

Redshirt senior Zach Baker (6’2″, 263 lbs.), a defensive end from Roanoke, leads VMI in tackles for loss, with five. Collin Loftis (5’10”, 170 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas, has three interceptions this season, tops among the Keydets.

VMI has used two placekickers this season. One of them, junior Reed King (5’9″, 168 lbs.), is also the Keydets’ punter.

Grant Clemons (6’2″, 185 lbs.) is the current incumbent at the PK spot. The junior, who began his college career at Georgia Military, has made both of his field goal tries so far this season (including a 40-yarder against Samford).

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Lexington, Virginia, per the National Weather Service:  a chance of showers, mainly before 8:00 am. It will be partly sunny, with a high of 64 degrees. Winds will be out of the west at 6-14 miles per hour.

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 6-point favorite over VMI (as of Thursday night), with an over/under of 71 1/2. That is easily the largest over/under for any game played by the Bulldogs this season.

After the over hit in The Citadel’s first four games this season, last week’s total wound up as a push.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams:  Wofford is a 3-point favorite over ETSU; Samford is a 7 1/2 point favorite at Furman; and Mercer is a 10 1/2 point favorite over Western Carolina. Those lines are all as of Thursday night.

Chattanooga is off this week.

– Also of note:  Alabama is a 28 1/2 point favorite at Tennessee; Charleston Southern is a 6 1/2 point favorite over Presbyterian; and Towson is a 17-point favorite at Albany.

That CSU-PC number has really moved. On Tuesday afternoon, the Buccaneers were a 13 1/2 point favorite over the Blue Hose.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 61st in FCS, while VMI is ranked 111th.

Massey projects the Bulldogs to have an 83% chance of winning, with a predicted final score of The Citadel 41, VMI 28.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey:  Towson (9th), Elon (11th), Colgate (14th), Kennesaw State (19th), Yale (28th), Wofford (30th), Furman (35th), Chattanooga (37th), East Tennessee State (39th), North Carolina A&T (42nd), Samford (44th), Mercer (46th), Western Carolina (74th), Charleston Southern (80th), South Carolina State (97th), Presbyterian (113th), Gardner-Webb (116th), Mississippi Valley State (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, James Madison, South Dakota State, Dartmouth, and Illinois State.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, and Iowa. Texas is 12th, UCF 13th, North Carolina State 15th, Duke 19th, West Virginia 20th, Mississippi State 24th, South Carolina 30th, Auburn 32nd, Appalachian State 34th, Missouri 35th, Army 40th, Maryland 46th, Virginia Tech 47th, Wake Forest 55th, Tennessee 56th, Virginia 57th, Florida State 63rd, Georgia Tech 64th, North Texas 71st, Toledo 81st, Air Force 84th, Georgia Southern 91st, Navy 96th, North Carolina 97th, Arkansas 104th, Liberty 105th, Coastal Carolina 110th, Old Dominion 119th, and UTEP 130th and last.

– Among VMI’s notable alumni:  rugby star Dan Lyle, movie producer Frank McCarthy, and civil rights activist Jonathan Daniels.

– VMI’s roster includes 63 players from Virginia. Other states represented on its squad:  Alabama (5 players), Maryland (3), Pennsylvania (2), North Carolina (2), Georgia (2), Tennessee (2), New York (2), Texas (2), and one each from California, New Jersey, and South Carolina (freshman defensive back Tim Smith is from Rock Hill and went to Nation Ford High School).

Thus, none of the Keydets are graduates of Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, the internationally celebrated bastion of gridiron excellence located in the Palmetto State. The continued failure to draw talent from the unquestioned epicenter of elite pigskin performance goes a long way to explaining VMI’s struggles in the sport.

– The Citadel’s geographic roster breakdown (per the school’s website) is as follows: South Carolina (47), Georgia (28), Florida (9), North Carolina (5), Texas (5), Tennessee (4), Pennsylvania (3), Alabama (2), New York (2), and one each from Kentucky, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

– This week’s two-deep is similar to the one released for the ETSU game. There are a few changes, however. Kyler Estes appears on the depth chart at the “KAT” position. Also, Sean-Thomas Faulkner is now officially listed as the starter in the “Bandit” role.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of 6-5 for games played on October 20. The Bulldogs are 3-4 away from home on that date, and 3-3 in SoCon play. A brief review of four of the victories, as we go into the Bulldogs’ Wayback Machine:

  • 1917:  The Citadel defeated Erskine, 18-7, in a game played at Hampton Park in Charleston. The Bulldogs opened the game by successfully recovering an onside kick, an aggressive ploy that set the tone for the contest. Three of The Citadel’s players accounted for all the home team’s scoring. “Wild John” Crouch caught two TD passes, one from Billy Dotterer and another from Archie Reynolds. The third touchdown for the Bulldogs came on a throw from Reynolds to Dotterer.
  • 1979:  In Lexington, Virginia, The Citadel walloped VMI 37-6. Stump Mitchell rushed for 188 yards and a touchdown. Other Bulldogs to dent the end zone that day: Tim Russell, Wilford Austin, Mark Hunt, and Jeff Turner. Emmer Chavez added a field goal. The defense, keyed by the likes of Scott Wages and Paul Gillis, held the Keydets to 194 total yards.
  • 1990:  The Citadel 38, South Carolina 35. You know all about this one. According to The State newspaper, all the Gamecocks had to do to win was “just show up”, arguably the laziest analysis in the history of sports journalism. I just wish I had a tape of Bob Fulton and Tommy Suggs calling the game on the radio.
  • 2007:  A high-scoring game in Cullowhee against Western Carolina resulted in a 37-31 win for the Bulldogs. Andre Roberts had 9 catches for 119 yards and a TD, while Tory Cooper added two rushing touchdowns. Mike Adams kicked three field goals for the Cadets, as The Citadel built a 17-point lead before hanging on for the victory.

– Incidentally, the 188 yards rushing by Stump Mitchell against VMI in 1979 that I referenced above was Mitchell’s career high in a game during his time at The Citadel. The following year (1980), Mitchell rushed for 173 yards versus the Keydets, including a 75-yard TD scamper that is the greatest run I’ve ever seen in person at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Mitchell also had 157 yards rushing against VMI as a sophomore. In four games against the Keydets, The Citadel’s career rushing leader averaged 8.6 yards per carry.

The Citadel is busing most of the freshmen in the Corps of Cadets to the game. I’m very pleased about that, as I was when the freshmen made an appearance at Wofford.

I’ve said this more than once, but if you are a graduate of The Citadel, a trip to VMI is almost a must. Every alum should make the journey to “the Post” at least once, if only to watch a parade and check out the gameday experience.

I won’t be able to make it this year, which is my loss. I’ll be intently watching the game on TV, though.

I have concerns about this game from The Citadel’s perspective. VMI always brings its best to this matchup. While the Keydets don’t have any wins this season, they can remain confident in the fact they do some things well, and have been competitive in three of their five SoCon games.

The Bulldogs have been just good enough to lose four of five league contests. Sometimes, that becomes an unwanted pattern. The Citadel has to come out aggressively and put its stamp on the game; otherwise, it could be a long and difficult afternoon.

This game is important. This game matters.

The coveted Silver Shako is at stake, 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.

Coda: the pictures from the ETSU game. They aren’t the most stellar of photos, which is the norm.

I will say that I like the blue and white smoke as the team runs on to the field, and it shows up fairly well in the pictures.

League-only statistics from the 2017 SoCon football season, with assorted observations

League links of interest:

– Keeper’s College Football Ratings “Starters and Stats Lost” spreadsheet has been updated

– Hero Sports’ previews for The Citadel, Chattanooga, East Tennessee StateFurman, Mercer, and Samford (with more to come)

– The College Sports Journal’s preview for VMI, Chattanooga, ETSU, The Citadel, and Western Carolina (with more to come)

– Conference preview from “SoCon John”: Link

– Local columnist from Macon says Mercer is playoff-bound

– Terrell Owens is going to celebrate his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Chattanooga instead of Canton

– East Tennessee State signs 10-year marketing/sponsorship/media sales agreement that could be worth up to $15 million

My analysis (such as it is) of the 2018 SoCon non-conference football slate

While compiling information for my posts about The Citadel’s 2017 football statistics, I wound up with a spreadsheet that included stats for all the SoCon teams (league games only). I decided that it wouldn’t hurt anybody if I made an additional, SoCon-related post centered around that spreadsheet, with some random thoughts and observations.

Anyway, here it is:

2017 SoCon football statistics

As mentioned, these are conference-only stats for the nine league football teams. I got them from the SoCon’s own website, as this year the conference posted league-only numbers very early in the off-season. For that, I’m grateful.

All I’ve done here is put them on a Google spreadsheet, which was not exactly heavy lifting. I have added a few different categories for offense and defense (and one for the kicking game). There are also tabs for things like attendance, game length, and the coin toss, which I gathered myself (not that it was too hard).

I tried to make it as easy to read as possible, though I’m not sure I completely succeeded in doing so.

Below are a few comments, mostly arbitrary (but not capricious).

When it came to the coin toss, most of the squads in the league were ready to defer at a moment’s notice.

I mean that literally. Seven of the nine conference teams, on winning the coin toss in a SoCon game, always chose to defer the option to the second half.

As I’ve written before, there is no question that the rise in teams deferring the option can be traced to the influence of Bill Belichick:

Among the many changes to the sport Bill Belichick has generated has been the growing trend of teams deferring after winning the opening coin toss. Gone are the days when teams licked their lips at the chance of opening the game with a scoring drive to take an early lead, as the option to delay that chosen possession until the start of the second half has increasingly become in vogue.

That’s in large part due to the way Belichick and Tom Brady have worked to flip games upside-down by scoring on the final possession of the first half and then scoring on the opening possession of the second half — the “dreaded double score,” as it’s come to be known by every broadcaster. If you can pull it off, it’s effective, and so many opposing coaches have opted to defer when they win the opening coin toss — especially when facing the Patriots.

Of course, you have to be careful that your team captains know what to tell the official after winning the coin toss in case you want to try something different, as Belichick himself learned a couple of years ago.

You also have to make sure they know what to do if the other team wins the coin toss, as Texas found out in 2014:

Texas defensive tackle Desmond Jackson apologized for his role in bungling the coin toss in the Longhorns’ loss to UCLA on Saturday.

UCLA won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half. That meant Texas would have the option of choosing to kick or receive to start the first half. The Longhorns chose to kick, allowing UCLA to choose to start the second half with the ball.

Thus, UCLA received to open both halves, essentially gaining a free possession. That was a big deal, as the Bruins wound up winning the game by three points, 20-17.

Back in the SoCon, Western Carolina and VMI were the league rebels, with both teams electing to receive when winning the coin toss (which each did three times last season).

What I found curious is that they didn’t always do so in non-conference games.

Western Carolina won the coin toss in both of its first two games, against Hawai’i and Davidson, and deferred the option each time. By the time the Catamounts played North Carolina at the end of the season, however, WCU was ready to go on offense, electing to receive in that game.

VMI also deferred after winning the coin toss in its season opener, against Air Force. I was unable to determine the coin toss winner for VMI-Robert Morris, though I suspect the Colonials won and took the ball.

The Citadel won the toss in its first game of the season, versus Newberry, and elected to receive. That is the only other non-conference game from last year that I found in which a SoCon team didn’t follow its standard defer-or-receive decision-making process.

One thing I was curious about with regards to game length was whether or not instant replay review had an appreciable effect on time.

Last season, Mercer and The Citadel were the only two schools to have review capability. The fact the SoCon is playing conference games under two different sets of rules is beyond annoying, but that’s not my focus here. I’m just evaluating the length of the games.

The Citadel’s away games took on average 2:55 to play. When the Bulldogs played at Johnson Hagood Stadium, with instant replay review, contests took on average 3:06 to complete.

As for Mercer, it had an average home game time of 3:18. The average length for the Bears’ three non-JHS road games was 2:59 (and one of those games, against ETSU, went to overtime).

In terms of time, the games at Five Star Stadium were the longest conference road contests played by VMI, Wofford, and Chattanooga. Also, the second-longest SoCon road games for VMI and Wofford were their respective matchups at The Citadel.

Samford’s game at Mercer was the Birmingham squad’s second-longest league away matchup, in part because SU’s longest road game, at Western Carolina, was delayed in the fourth quarter by lightning.

The differential is rather striking. The league might claim that replay review has little to do with the time difference, and you can surely put some of it down to small sample sizes.

However, some of the reviews were very lengthy, including one in The Citadel’s game against Western Carolina that took much longer than what was stated on the game report. Both the length of the reviews and the accuracy of the game reports are issues that the conference must address.

Other tidbits on the length of league contests:

  • Shortest game: The Citadel at Chattanooga, 2:44
  • Longest game: Samford at Western Carolina, 4:10
  • Longest game not delayed by lightning: Chattanooga at Mercer, 3:31
  • Teams that averaged under three hours per game on the road: VMI, The Citadel
  • Teams that averaged over 3:10 per game on the road: Chattanooga, Furman, Samford
  • Teams that averaged under three hours per game at home: VMI
  • Teams that averaged over 3:10 per game at home: Mercer, Samford, Western Carolina

I’ve also included a tab for league game attendance. A few quick notes:

  • Largest crowd: Wofford at Mercer, 12727
  • Smallest crowd: Samford at VMI, 3310
  • Largest home crowd variance: Samford, 3523 vs. Chattanooga and 9233 vs. The Citadel
  • Smallest home crowd variance: ETSU, 7087 vs. Wofford and 8022 vs. Mercer
  • Largest road crowd variance: Samford, 3310 at VMI and 12018 at Western Carolina
  • Smallest road crowd variance: The Citadel, 7521 at Chattanooga and 10105 at Furman

Odds and ends, 2017 SoCon action edition:

– Western Carolina led the league in net rushing if you take sacks out of the equation (as you should). The most important player any league team will have to replace for the upcoming season, in my opinion, is former WCU running back Detrez Newsome.

– Furman quarterbacks were only sacked twice in conference play, despite 142 pass attempts. The Paladins’ 1.4% sack against rate was easily the league’s best. The SoCon average was 6.3%.

– The passes defensed rate in league action was 12.6%. Samford led the conference in PD rate, at 15.8%, slightly ahead of Western Carolina.

– The Citadel led the conference in time of possession (and led FCS in that category as well).

– The kickoff touchback rate in SoCon play was 28.8%, but East Tennessee State’s t-back rate was 72.7%, by far the highest in the conference.

– Wofford’s +10 turnover margin was the best in the league. VMI trailed the field with a -18 margin.

– The average yards per play in conference games was 5.22. The top offense in y/p was Furman (6.68). The best defense in the category was Samford (4.72).

There are now less than two months to go before the season begins. The first league game takes place on September 1, when The Citadel plays at Wofford.

We’ll be ready.

“Advanced” statistics from The Citadel’s 2017 SoCon campaign

Other recent stats-related posts:

Part 1 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 run/pass tendencies and yards per play numbers)

Part 2 of Inside the Numbers (The Citadel’s 2017 fourth-down decision-making and plenty of other statistics)

League-only statistics for the SoCon in 2017 (all teams), plus assorted observations you can’t live without

This is a post primarily about the “Five Factors” of college football. For what it is worth, I made a similar post last season about The Citadel’s 2016 season.

I’m also going to mention three other not-so-advanced stats later in this post, but we’ll start with the Five Factors. As I did last year, let me quote Bill Connelly of SB Nation on what the Five Factors actually are:

…I’ve come to realize that the sport comes down to five basic things, four of which you can mostly control. You make more big plays than your opponent, you stay on schedule, you tilt the field, you finish drives, and you fall on the ball. Explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers are the five factors to winning football games.

  • If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.

  • If you win the efficiency battle (using Success Rate), you win 83 percent of the time.

  • If you win the drive-finishing battle (using points per trip inside the 40), you win 75 percent of the time.

  • If you win the field position battle (using average starting field position), you win 72 percent of the time.

  • If you win the turnover battle (using turnover margin), you win 73 percent of the time.

Those percentages were based on 2013 FBS data. It’s now 2018, but there is no particular reason why they shouldn’t still be valid. Connelly made adjustments to some of the formulas that go into the five factors (especially the “explosiveness” category), but the basic principles are the same.

I’ve already gone over a bunch of statistics in my annual post on per-play numbers, conversion rates, etc., (see Part 1 and Part 2), but these are slightly different types of stats.

What follows is a package of advanced statistics for the Bulldogs’ 2017 season. It comes with its very own spreadsheet.

Keep in mind that these stats are for SoCon games only. Also, please remember that the stats were compiled by me, so they may not be absolutely perfect. You don’t get a refund if there are any mistakes, though.

I’ll be using some FBS numbers for comparison purposes, as there are no readily available equivalent stats online for FCS teams. Now, you may be wondering whether or not FCS stats would be similar to those for the FBS.

For the most part, they should be — with a couple of possible caveats. I asked Bill Connelly a question about FBS vs. FCS stats and potential differences, and he was nice enough to respond. Here is what he had to say about it on his podcast:

…The one thing you will notice is the further down you go, from pro to college, from FBS to FCS, Division II to high school and all that…the more big plays you’re going to have, and the more turnovers you’re going to have. That’s going to be the biggest difference, because you’re going to have more lopsided matchups, and you’re just going to have more mistakes. And so if you go down to the FCS level, it’s not going to be a dramatic difference with FBS — but that’s going to be the difference. You’re going to have more breakdowns, you’re going to have more lopsided matchups to take advantage of, you’re not going to have quite the same level of proficiency throughout a defense, and so there will be more mistakes on defense, and I think the reason North Dakota State has been so good is that they’re about as close as you can get to kind of being mistake-free in that regard.

As someone who has watched various levels of football for a long time, I tend to agree with that idea. I will add, though, that while there may be a slightly wider variance in terms of overall quality in FCS as opposed to FBS, it is probably less prominent in most intra-conference games, like those for the SoCon, where for the most part eight of the nine teams were very competitive last season.

Now that I’ve got all that out of the way, let’s look at the Five Factors.

Field position

The key thing to remember here is that you measure an offense’s effectiveness (in terms of field position) by the starting field position of its defense (and vice versa).

Special teams play is obviously critically important for field position as well. Net punting, kickoff coverage, the return game — it all counts.

The FBS national average for starting field position in 2017 was the 29.6 yard line.

-Average starting yard line of offensive drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 32.6 26.1  6.5
(Road) 29.4 30.6 -1.2
Total 31.0 28.3  2.7

The Citadel won the field position battle in five of eight league contests. In a bit of an anomaly, in games played by the Bulldogs, the team with the edge in field position only won twice.

The Bulldogs had similar field position numbers at home in 2016, but were significantly better on the road that season.

A corollary stat to field position is “3-and-outs+”, which is forcing an offense off the field after a possession of three plays or less that does not result in a score. Last season, The Citadel’s offense had a “3-and-outs+” rate of 27.5%, while the Bulldogs’ opponents had a rate of 35.2%. That 7.7% differential was excellent.

In 2017, however, The Citadel had a negative differential in 3-and-outs+, with an offensive rate of 34.4% and a defensive rate of 31.9%. (For anyone interested, this year I have included a tab on the spreadsheet breaking down the game-by-game numbers in this category.)

The Citadel’s net punting average in SoCon play was 35.1; the league average was 36.4. The Bulldogs were slightly below league average in yards per punt return, and slightly above average in yards per kick return.

On kickoffs, The Citadel had a touchback rate of 46.7%, well above the conference average (28.8%) and second in the league, behind only East Tennessee State (which had a very impressive touchback rate of 72.7%).

Stanford (+9.1) and Alabama ranked 1-2 in field position margin for FBS. Kansas, with a FP margin of -9.2, was far and away the worst FBS team in the category.

Efficiency

With efficiency, we’re talking about a statistic called “Success Rate”. Here is its definition, via Football Outsiders:

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

The FBS national average for Success Rate in 2017 was 40.3%; the median was 41.8%.

-Success Rate-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 37.77% 38.62% -0.85%
(Road) 40.63% 50.00% -9.37%
Total 39.03% 43.27% -4.24%

The Citadel split the efficiency battle in league games, coming out ahead four times, but falling short by a big margin in two of the other four games.

For a few more details, see the tab on the spreadsheet.

Last season, The Citadel’s offense had a success rate in league play of 45.4%, while the defense was also better in the category (39.9%).

The nature of the Bulldogs’ offense is such that Success Rate is particularly important. The Citadel has to remain “on schedule”, and consistently staying in good down-and-distance situations is paramount.

In FBS, Oklahoma led all teams in offensive Success Rate, at 53.2%. Army ranked second, followed by Ohio State, UCF, and Washington. Navy was 10th, Clemson 16th, Alabama 17th, and South Carolina 65th.

As for the remaining triple option teams, Air Force was 27th, Georgia Tech was 45th, New Mexico was 98th, and Georgia Southern was 119th. UTEP was last nationally, with an offensive Success Rate of only 32.7%.

Michigan had the top defensive Success Rate in FBS, at 30.6%. The top 5 also included Clemson, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, and Auburn. Others of note: Alabama was 7th, Georgia 11th, Notre Dame 18th, South Carolina 59th, and East Carolina last (with a defensive Success Rate of 50.6%).

Explosiveness

As was the case last year, I think an explanation of “IsoPPP” is necessary. Again, from SB Nation’s Bill Connelly:

IsoPPP is the Equivalent Points Per Play (PPP) average on only successful plays. This allows us to look at offense in two steps: How consistently successful were you, and when you were successful, how potent were you?

The Citadel will never be a national leader in “Explosiveness”, due to the nature of its offense. That isn’t to say big plays aren’t a key feature of a successful triple option attack, as they certainly are. However, the (hopefully large) number of relatively modest-but-successful plays tends to cancel out those long gainers when the statistic is calculated.

The Bulldogs only came out ahead in this category in one of eight league games. That was also the case last season, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned about it, at least on offense. Defensively, the Bulldogs allowed too many big plays on the road, and that is reflected in the numbers.

-Explosiveness (IsoPPP)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 1.04 1.05 -0.02
(Road) 1.06 1.44 -0.38
Total 1.05 1.24 -0.19

The FBS national average for Explosiveness was 1.17. Memphis led the division in offensive IsoPPP, at 1.48, just ahead of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Mississippi was 4th, and UCF 5th.

This is just the umpteenth example of how amazing Oklahoma’s offense was last season. Finishing 1st in Success Rate and 2nd in Explosiveness is just an incredible statistical combination.

The triple option teams were all below average in IsoPPP, with the exception of New Mexico (53rd overall). Georgia Southern ranked last (0.93), just behind Army. Given that the Black Knights won 10 games last season, I don’t think Jeff Monken is too worried about his squad’s offensive IsoPPP numbers.

Washington was the national FBS standard-bearer for defensive IsoPPP (0.93). The rest of the top 5: Fresno State, Clemson, Michigan State, and Wyoming. Alabama was 8th and South Carolina was 19th (a key factor in the Gamecocks’ improved record last year).

The bottom two teams in defensive IsoPPP were Georgia Southern and Air Force, with the Falcons trailing the field (1.46).

Georgia Southern was last in offensive IsoPPP, and next-to-last in defensive IsoPPP. In related news, it was a tough year in Statesboro.

Finishing Drives

This category calculates points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line. It’s a supersized version of the “Red Zone”, with the theory being that the true scoring territory on the field begins at the +40.

The FBS national average for points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line in 2017 was 4.42.

-Finishing Drives-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 2.36 5.33 -2.97
(Road) 3.63 5.76 -2.13
Total 2.95 5.59 -2.64

This is beyond ugly. The Citadel’s opponents had the edge in this category in seven of eight games, with the exception being Wofford.

Yes, even VMI, which scored just three points against the Bulldogs, did better in finishing drives. Of course, one reason for that was the Keydets had only one such drive during the game, scoring those three points on it.

The Citadel, meanwhile, averaged 1.4 points per drive inside the 40 against VMI.

The Bulldogs’ offense actually had one more opportunity inside the 40 in conference play last season than it did in 2016. However, it averaged 4.53 points per such drive in 2016, as opposed to a measly 2.95 points in 2017, a difference of 1.58 points per drive.

That’s an enormous differential. If you extrapolate those numbers, The Citadel’s offense scored eight more points per game in “inside the 40” situations in 2016 than it did last year. That is a huge difference.

The defense also did not fare as well last year in preventing opponents from finishing drives with points. The point differential from 2016 to 2017 for the Bulldogs’ D was about four points per contest inside the 40.

In 2016, The Citadel had a scoring margin per game in conference play of 11.1. In 2017, that number was -6.6, for a differential of 17.7 points.

The difference in the “finishing drives” category alone amounted to 12 points per league contest.

The trouble the Bulldogs had in plus territory, both offensively and defensively, wasn’t the only thing (in terms of quality of play) that separated The Citadel’s last two seasons. It was a major factor, however.

Florida Atlantic led the nation in finishing drives (offense) in 2017, with a stellar 5.5 points per trip inside the 40-yard-line. Lane Kiffin leaned on running back Devin Singletary to carry the freight in scoring territory, and the sophomore delivered, leading FBS in rushing touchdowns with 32 while rushing for 1,920 yards.

The team with the best defense inside the 40 was Troy, which allowed only 3.13 points per drive in those situations.

Ohio State ranked first in finishing drives margin (combining offense and defensive numbers), at +1.8 points per drive inside the 40. Wisconsin was 2nd, followed by Washington and Alabama.

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Kent State, which had the worst finishing drives margin in FBS (-1.88). Also in the bottom five: San Jose State, UTEP, Tennessee, and Oregon State.

Turnovers

First, a table of the actual turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 10 6 -4
(Road) 2 6 4
Total 12 6 0

Those home turnovers were decidedly unpleasant. More than a few of them happened when it looked like the Bulldogs were about to score.

This next table is the “adjusted” or “expected” turnovers:

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 9.74 6.04 -3.7
(Road) 3.54 4.24  0.7
Total 13.28 10.28 -3.0

The expected turnovers statistic is based on A) the idea that recovering fumbles is a 50-50 proposition, and B) a little over 1/5 of passes that are “defensed” are intercepted. In other words, if a defensive back breaks up four passes, the fifth one he get his hands on would likely be a pick.

The “passes defensed” interception rate is calculated at 22%.

Basically, the Bulldogs committed too many turnovers, and were a little lucky to finish with a break-even mark in turnover margin.

Some teams in FBS were a lot luckier, however. Stanford had a -3.8 expected turnover margin, but actually finished with a turnover margin of +16. Other squads that had good fortune in this area: Purdue, Iowa State, Wyoming, Alabama, and Louisiana Tech.

On the other hand, Marshall won eight times last season (including a bowl game) despite a -8 turnover margin, when the expected turnover margin for the Thundering Herd was actually +1.9.

How did The Citadel fare in the “Five Factors” head-to-head with each opponent in league play?

  • at East Tennessee State: 1-4, with Bulldogs dominating TOP but not taking the lead (thanks to miscues) until the fourth quarter
  • at Samford: 2-3, but never in the game; SU’s combined offensive Success Rate/Explosiveness was quite decisive
  • Mercer: 1-4, but the advanced stats were all close except for Finishing Drives
  • Wofford: 2-2-1, and the game could have gone either way
  • at Chattanooga: 1-4, with some very close numbers; three UTC turnovers outweighed a sizable field position edge for the Mocs
  • VMI: 4-1, a frustrating game for the Bulldogs in some ways, but still never really in doubt after the first quarter
  • Western Carolina: 1-4, a contest defined by multiple turnovers by the Bulldogs in the Red Zone
  • at Furman: 0-4-1, the sole highlight being that The Citadel committed no turnovers

There are three other statistical categories that I’m going to mention in this space. All of them are included in tabs on the linked spreadsheet (and all reference SoCon games only).

-First down yardage gained per play-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.95 4.75 1.20
(Road) 5.70 7.40 -1.70
Total 5.83 6.06 -0.23

Not on the spreadsheet, but worth mentioning:

  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.49 yards on first down in 2015, including 5.94 yards per rush on first down and 11.04 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 6.21 yards on first down in 2016, including 6.14 yards per rush on first down and 6.65 yards per pass attempt on first down
  • The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.83 yards on first down in 2017, including 5.39 yards per rush on first down and 7.76 yards per pass attempt on first down

The Bulldogs were better on first down pass attempts in 2017 than the year before, but not really good enough. In a “standard down” situation, a triple option team needs to be considerably better. I would hazard a guess that averaging at least nine yards per pass attempt on first down should be the goal.

The decline in rushing yardage per first down play is also something that has to be reversed for the 2018 campaign.

-3rd down distance to gain (in yards)-

The Citadel Opponent Margin
(Home) 5.48 9.10 3.62
(Road) 6.48 7.19 0.71
Total 5.98 7.62 1.64

That isn’t bad, but not quite as good as last season, when the margin was 2.49.

In FBS, the top three offensive teams in this category were all triple option outfits — Army, Navy, and Georgia Tech. The Citadel would have slotted in nicely behind them in this category, as the 3rd-ranked Yellow Jackets had a need-to-gain average on 3rd down of 5.97.

Definition of “passing downs”: 2nd down and 8 yards or more to go for a first down, 3rd/4th down and 5 yards or more to go for a first down

-Passing down success rate: offense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 47 23 25.71%
(Road) 58 32 33.33%
Total 105 55 30.00%

In 2016, The Citadel ran the ball 75.6% of the time on “passing downs”. Last season, that number declined to 65.6%, a full ten percentage points. The success rate also declined, perhaps not surprisingly.

The Bulldogs were only successful 18.2% of the time when throwing (or attempting to throw) on passing downs. More than fourth-fifths of the time, a pass play in that situation either resulted in an incomplete pass, a sack, or a completion that did not gain The Citadel a first down (or set up 3rd-and-short after a 2nd down play).

-Passing down success rate: defense-

Rushes Pass Attempts Success rate
(Home) 36 55 26.37%
(Road) 18 45 31.75%
Total 54 100 28.57%

The Citadel’s opponents were a little more successful throwing the ball on passing downs, but not by a huge margin. Only 26 of 100 pass attempts (which include sacks) against the Bulldogs’ D on passing downs resulted in successful plays.

No matter how you slice it (and when it comes to football statistics, there are a lot of different ways to use a knife), The Citadel had a somewhat disappointing gridiron campaign in 2017. Some of the improvements necessary to ensure a more successful 2018 are fairly obvious. Others are perhaps a bit more obscure.

Regardless, we’re all ready to see how the team fares this year — as we are every year, stats or no stats.

Inside the Numbers, Part 2: The Citadel’s 2017 4th down decision-making, plus much more (Red Zone stats! 3rd down conversion info! Big plays! Coin tosses! Game length data!)

This is Part 2 of my annual “Inside the Numbers” post. This year, it is in two parts because, well, it got too cumbersome for just one post.

If you happened on this part of the writeup first, you may want to first go to Part 1 for the introduction. You can read Part 1 right here.

Referenced throughout this post will be The Spreadsheet.

Let’s start this part of the post with the Red Zone, which was a crimson-colored house of horrors for The Citadel last season:

  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 56.3%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 64.5%
  • The Citadel’s offensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 43.3%

In case anyone was wondering whether or not 43.3% was bad, the answer is yes, it was bad. Very bad. Last in the league, in fact (the Red Zone average TD rate in SoCon play was 61.7%).

The Bulldogs were throwing away points inside the 20. There was a three-game stretch (UTC, VMI, WCU) where The Citadel only scored touchdowns on 3 out of 13 trips to the Red Zone, which is abominable.

Also, while scoring rate isn’t as big a deal as TD rate in the Red Zone, the Bulldogs were last in the league in that category as well, and last by a huge margin. The Citadel only scored 50% of the time in the Red Zone (either field goals or TDs), which is simply miserable (the league average RZ scoring rate was 79.6%).

When all games are taken into account, The Citadel ranked only 90th (out of 123 FCS teams) in Red Zone TD rate, with the Bulldogs faring better in the statistic in out-of-conference play (leading to a 51.2% rate for all games).

I believe The Citadel should have a goal of converting at least 70% of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns, something that was done by fourteen FCS teams last season. I would have said 75% (in fact, that was the benchmark I suggested last year), but only five FCS teams accomplished that, so it may be a tough goal. Those five teams, incidentally, were Monmouth (which scored touchdowns on 80.9% of its Red Zone possessions), South Dakota State, Incarnate Word, Princeton, and North Dakota State.

Three of those five teams had good-to-great seasons. On the other hand, Incarnate Word was 1-10; the key to the Cardinals’ Red Zone stats wasn’t as much the TD rate, but the lack of total opportunities (24 in 11 games). Charleston Southern was sixth nationally in the category, but like UIW also struggled to drive inside the 20 (only doing so 26 times last season).

Sam Houston State and James Madison finished 1-2 in Red Zone opportunities (77 and 72, respectively). At the other end of the spectrum was VMI, which only had 13 chances inside the 20 in 11 games.

In general, Furman and Wofford fared the best in offensive Red Zone statistics among SoCon teams.

In 2016, Navy led all FBS teams in Red Zone TD rate. Last season, Army finished first in the category (at 82.4%). The Midshipmen slipped to 26th overall (at 68.6%). Air Force was 11th, Clemson 14th, and Georgia Tech 15th. Some teams that need to improve offensive Red Zone efficiency in 2018 include South Carolina (93rd), Georgia Southern (109th), and Kent State (last).

In terms of total Red Zone opportunities among FBS teams, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma ranked 1-2. UCF, Alabama, and Ohio State rounded out the top 5. South Carolina was tied for 116th, and UTEP was last (no place to go but up, Jim Senter).

  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2015: 52.2%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2016: 66.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive Red Zone touchdown rate in SoCon action, 2017: 81.8%

Oof. The Bulldogs were the worst Red Zone defense in the league, and by a considerable margin. The one positive was that opposing teams didn’t get inside the 20 quite as often as the league average (about half a possession per game difference).

The best defensive team in conference play in the Red Zone was Western Carolina, though truthfully the league did not have a dominant team in this category.

Villanova topped FCS in defensive Red Zone TD rate (34.4%), with St. Francis University and South Carolina State tying for second. Towson was 35th and Charleston Southern 37th. The Citadel finished 117th.

Wisconsin led FBS in defensive Red Zone TD rate, allowing touchdowns just 31.4% of the time. Notables in the top 30: Troy (2nd), TCU (3rd), Virginia Tech (4th), Clemson (5th), Alabama (9th), Georgia (11th), South Carolina (26th). UTEP finished last.

Make no mistake, The Citadel’s difficulty in making positive plays in the Red Zone was a huge factor in the team’s overall struggles. In fact, I feel confident in saying that finishing drives (on both sides of the ball) was the #1 problem for the Bulldogs in 2017. That aspect of the game has to get significantly better this season if The Citadel wants to contend for a conference title.

  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2015: 50.0%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2016: 50.4%
  • The Citadel’s offensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon play, 2017: 38.7%

For all games, The Citadel actually finished 24th in FCS in offensive third-down conversion rate (42.2%); the Bulldogs were 21 for 32 on third down attempts against Newberry and Presbyterian, upping the percentage, though a 4 for 17 performance versus Clemson had the opposite effect.

The league average in conference play was 38.8%, so the Bulldogs were fair-to-middling in the category. Obviously, you can’t be fair-to-middling in too many things (especially important things like 3rd down conversions) and still expect to compete for a championship.

Furman (51.4%) and Wofford led the SoCon. In all games, the Paladins had an offensive 3rd-down conversion rate of 48.6%, which ranked 4th nationally.

The top three in FCS were Princeton, Youngstown State, and Kennesaw State. Wofford was 8th, Towson 32nd, Western Carolina 33rd, Samford 41st, Mercer 55th, Presbyterian 59th, Charleston Southern 87th, ETSU 94th, Chattanooga 101st, South Carolina State 110th, VMI 118th, and Georgetown 123rd and last.

Army topped FBS in offensive third-down conversion rate, at 55.2%. Air Force was 3rd, Clemson 7th, Georgia Tech 13th, Navy and UCF tied for 15th, South Carolina was 85th, and Charlotte last (at just 26.0%).

  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2015: 33.7%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2016: 33.3%
  • The Citadel’s defensive 3rd-down conversion rate in SoCon action, 2017: 33.3%

That’s solid, and also extremely consistent. In conference play, Furman and The Citadel ranked 1-2 in this category.

The Bulldogs finished 42nd nationally in defensive 3rd-date conversion rate, with a number slightly higher (35.8%) than their league stats. McNeese State led FCS (with a very impressive 23.8%), followed by North Carolina Central and North Dakota State.

You’ll notice that NDSU, Jacksonville State (9th) and James Madison (10th) tend to rank at or near the top of many of these categories. There is a reason those teams won a lot of games.

A few others worth mentioning: Towson (17th), South Carolina State (22nd), Charleston Southern (68th), Florida A&M (last). New head coach Willie Simmons is going to have to whip the Rattlers’ D into shape; allowing a 53.4% 3rd-down conversion rate to opponents is not a recipe for success.

For the second consecutive season, Michigan led FBS in defensive 3rd-down conversion rate, at 26.1%, finishing just ahead of Virginia Tech in that category. Texas, Washington State, Wisconsin, and Clemson followed (in that order). Alabama was 30th, South Carolina 76th, and Oregon State was last (allowing third down conversions at a 53.2% clip).

  • The Citadel’s defense in 2015 in SoCon action: 20 sacks, 33 passes defensed in 212 pass attempts (15.6% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2016 in SoCon action: 21 sacks, 29 passes defensed in 211 pass attempts (13.7% PD)
  • The Citadel’s defense in 2017 in SoCon action: 13 sacks, 24 passes defensed in 205 pass attempts (11.7% PD)

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

The lack of sacks is noticeable, though it is also true that the Bulldogs increased their “hurries” totals in league play for a fourth consecutive season (garnering 26 last year). I’m a little leery of hurries as a statistic, though — it reminds me a little too much of trying to define errors in baseball, in the sense that one person’s idea of an error is not necessarily someone else’s.

The Citadel’s “havoc rate” was 19.4%. The definition of havoc rate: tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and passes defensed, all added together and then divided by total plays.

I am unaware of any site that compiles havoc rates at the FCS level, but Football Outsiders does track the statistic for FBS teams, so that can be a little bit of a measuring stick. A havoc rate of 19.4% would have been good enough to tie for 18th nationally in FBS.

To be honest, I was a little surprised The Citadel’s havoc rate would be that high, given the relatively modest totals that went into compiling the stat. Then I realized I was forgetting about the relatively low number of total plays and how that affected the numbers.

In terms of total tackles for loss, the Bulldogs were not ranked that high in FCS, tying for 50th nationally. However, The Citadel’s tackles for loss rate was 20th-best in the subdivision.

The top 5 “havoc rate” teams in FBS in 2017: Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson.

East Carolina finished last in havoc rate, which isn’t all that surprising. Next-to-last, though: Nebraska. Scott Frost needs to find some top-shelf Blackshirts in a hurry.

Since I mentioned tackles for loss rate, and I’ve already gone into “overkill” mode with the numbers, here are some rankings for tackles for loss rate in FCS. As mentioned previously, The Citadel was 20th (this is for all games, not just conference matchups).

Others: North Carolina A&T (1st), McNeese State (2nd), Yale (3rd), Jacksonville State (4th), Morgan State (5th), North Dakota State (12th), Charleston Southern (17th), South Carolina State (26th), Samford (38th), James Madison (44th), Presbyterian (120th), Dayton (123rd).

In this section, I’m going to discuss “big plays”. There are a lot of different definitions of what constitutes a big play. My methodology is simple; I define “big plays” as offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20+ yards, regardless of whether or not they are rushing or passing plays.

  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2015: 30 (19 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2016: 26 (15 rushing, 11 passing)
  • The Citadel’s offensive plays from scrimmage resulting in gains of 20 or more yards, 2017: 36 (21 rushing, 15 passing)

In 2015, 20 of the 30 big plays by the Bulldogs’ offense in conference play either resulted in touchdowns or led to touchdowns on the same drive. In 2016, that was the case for 19 of the 26.

In 2017? Just 17 of 36. That reflects The Citadel’s struggles in the Red Zone.

There may be a perception out there that the Bulldogs were unable to break long gainers for TDs last season. All too often, it seemed like a Bulldog would break away for a 30- or 40-yard gain, only to be stopped around the 20-yard-line, and then the team couldn’t punch the ball in for six.

The problems in the Red Zone seemed to accentuate this issue. However, the truth is a little more complicated.

In 2017, The Citadel’s offense actually had just as many touchdowns from 40+ yards out in SoCon action as it did in 2016 — four. The difference? Last year, only one of those four long scores occurred when the game was still in doubt. All four long TDs in 2016 were consequential (as were the Bulldogs’ two defensive scores in league play that season).

  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2015: 23 (9 rushing, 14 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2016: 28 (9 rushing, 19 passing)
  • Plays from scrimmage of 20 yards or more allowed by The Citadel’s defense, 2017: 32 (10 rushing, 22 passing)

In 2015, 14 of the 23 big plays allowed by the Bulldogs either resulted in TDs or led to them on the same drive. In 2017, 18 of 28 big plays given up led directly or indirectly to touchdowns.

Last year, 25 of the 32 big plays allowed resulted in immediate TDs or led to touchdowns on the drive they occurred. That is a higher percentage than was the case in the prior two years.

  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 3 for 8 (37.5%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 8 for 16 (50.0%)
  • The Citadel’s offense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 8 for 19 (42.1%)

  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2015: 8 for 13 converted against (61.5%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2016: 5 for 9 converted against (55.6%)
  • The Citadel’s defense on 4th down in league play in 2017: 3 for 7 converted against (42.9%)

The 4th-down conversion rate for SoCon teams in league play was 49.5%.

I need to note here that the official league totals for The Citadel in these categories (both offense and defense) are a little different than what I have listed above. That is because I don’t count certain 4th down plays.

Against ETSU, The Citadel was officially 0-for-2 on 4th down. Those two “attempts” were A) a botched punt snap recovered by the Buccaneers, and B) the final play of the game, when Dominique Allen ran backwards before going down, in a successful effort to run out the clock.

I didn’t count either of those plays as fourth down attempts in my stats package. I also don’t count a fumbled punt by VMI as a 4th down attempt by the Keydets.

Whoa, nellie! Fumble!!!

When evaluating fumble stats, keep in mind that teams generally have a 50-50 chance at the recovery. The only other observation worth making about fumbles is that fumbling is bad.

  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 12 (lost 8)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 12 (lost 5)
  • The Citadel’s offensive fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 17 (lost 7)

  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2015: 8 (recovered 7)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2016: 13 (recovered 8)
  • The Citadel’s defensive forced fumbles in SoCon action, 2017: 9 (recovered 5)

On average, SoCon teams lost 5.78 fumbles in league play.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2015: 42
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2016: 45
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel in SoCon action, 2017: 43

For a third consecutive season, the number of penalties per game against the Bulldogs declined (there was one fewer conference game in 2015). The average total number of penalties per team in SoCon play was 44.

  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2015: 29
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2016: 33
  • Penalties enforced against The Citadel’s opponents in SoCon action, 2017: 26

No team had fewer penalties enforced against its opponents than The Citadel in league play, and it wasn’t particularly close. This has been an ongoing tradition in the SoCon for many years, as long-time fans of the Bulldogs are all too well aware.

  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2015, SoCon action: 6 (in seven games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel while in opposing territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)

I think a couple of these punts were debatable decisions. Some of them were understandable (the punt near the end of the first half against Mercer, for example).

It is possible Brent Thompson may have second-guessed himself for the punt late in the fourth quarter against Chattanooga, and also the punt in the first half versus Furman. Then again, the coach really doesn’t have time to second-guess himself. He has to make a call, and move on.

  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2016, SoCon action: 1 (in eight games)
  • Punts by The Citadel’s opponents while in Bulldogs territory in 2017, SoCon action: 5 (in eight games)

Three of the five punts in 2017 came in one game, as UTC coach Tom Arth was quite conservative, maybe overly so. The Citadel scored 10 points on two of the ensuing drives after the Mocs punted.

ETSU’s short-range punt didn’t work out for the Buccaneers, either, as the Bulldogs put together a 66-yard touchdown drive after getting the ball back.

4th down is just the downiest of all downs, isn’t it?

Defining some terms (courtesy of Football Outsiders):

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

On the spreadsheet I’ve categorized every fourth down situation The Citadel’s offense had in conference play (see the “4th down decisions” tab).

The Citadel punted all four times it had a fourth down in the Deep Zone. In the Back Zone, the Bulldogs punted 23 times (counting the “botched snap punt” in the ETSU game) and went for it in two late-game situations (against Wofford and Western Carolina).

In the Mid Zone, the Bulldogs punted 10 times and went for the first down six other occasions, successfully converting four times. I would characterize only one of those fourth down conversion attempts as something other than a “desperation” situation (that being the first of two attempts in the Mid Zone versus WCU).

In the Front Zone, The Citadel had two punts (both mentioned in the section above on punting), three field goal attempts (making one of those), and went for it five times. Only one of the five tries was successful, a 4th-and-1 play against Mercer in the second quarter.

Then there was the Red Zone, where all too often the Bulldogs wound up red-faced.

There were six missed (or blocked) field goal attempts, and two field goal tries that were made — but one of the made field goals came after the Bulldogs lined up to go for it on 4th down, then committed a false start.

The Citadel went for it on 4th down in the Red Zone five times, but only converted once, on the opening drive of the game against Wofford.

Over the last four seasons, The Citadel has had 32 4th-down situations in the Red Zone during SoCon regulation play. The Bulldogs have gone for the first down and/or touchdown on 4th down eight times, making it twice:

  • On the opening drive versus Wofford in 2017 (two-yard run for Brandon Rainey on 4th-and-1 from the Wofford 11-yard-line)
  • In the fourth quarter against VMI in 2016 (a 17-yard TD run by Jonathan Dorogy on 4th-and-3 from the VMI 17-yard-line)

(Note: there was a key go-for-it play that occurred in an overtime session during that four-year period, specifically the OT against Furman in 2014. In that situation, Aaron Miller picked up the first down on 4th-and-1 from the Furman 4-yard-line, and later scored what would prove to be the game-winning TD.)

For the second straight year, I’ve also tabulated what the Bulldogs’ league opponents did on 4th down versus The Citadel.

In the Deep Zone, conference opponents punted nine times on 4th down, but on one of those punts The Citadel committed a penalty that resulted in an automatic first down. There was also a late-game “desperation” attempt to go for it in the Deep Zone by VMI that was unsuccessful.

In the Back Zone, there were 19 punts and three fourth down tries. Wofford picked up a first down, ETSU failed to convert on its attempt, and VMI kept a drive alive after the Bulldogs jumped offsides on 4th down.

In the Mid Zone, The Citadel’s opposition punted all thirteen times a 4th down was faced. Well, there were actually 12 punts, as VMI bobbled a snap on one of its attempts to boot the ball away.

In the Front Zone, there were two punts (both by UTC, as detailed above) and four field goal attempts (two were made). Furman made both of its fourth-down attempts in the Front Zone, while VMI was 0-for-1.

There were two field goal attempts by The Citadel’s opponents in the Red Zone. Both were converted. The sole go-for-it situation faced by the Bulldogs’ D in the Red Zone came against Chattanooga, when the Mocs needed a TD late in the game. A pass attempt on 4th-and-10 was intercepted by Aron Spann III.

Three years ago, The Citadel began what appeared to be a policy of deferring the option to the second half every time it won the coin toss. The Bulldogs won the coin toss 4 times in SoCon play in 2015, and deferred on each occasion.

In 2016, The Citadel won the coin toss 6 times in 8 league games. In five of the six games in which the Bulldogs won the toss, they deferred, just as they had done in 2015. The exception was at Western Carolina, where The Citadel elected to receive after winning the toss.

That is the only time in the last three seasons of conference play in which the Bulldogs did not defer the option after winning the coin toss. In 2017, The Citadel was 5-3 in coin toss contests, and deferred all five times it won.

The “defer” gambit, which was undoubtedly influenced by Bill Belichick, has become a league-wide movement, with seven of the nine schools deferring on every occasion after winning the coin toss (at least in SoCon matchups). Bucking the trend are Western Carolina and VMI, both of which elected to receive every time after winning the coin toss (in conference action).

There is a tab on the spreadsheet that lists game-by-game attendance (home and away) and game length (in terms of time). Home games at Johnson Hagood Stadium took on average 11 minutes longer to play than contests the Bulldogs played on the road.

I suspect that is a direct result of The Citadel being one of two teams that have instant replay review capability. It did not benefit the Bulldogs in any way last season, of course.

Less than two months before new statistics come to life…