2018 Football, Game 10: The Citadel vs. Alabama

The Citadel vs. Alabama, to be played at Bryant-Denny Stadium, with kickoff at 12:00 pm ET on November 17, 2018.

The game will be televised on SEC Network. Dave Neal will handle play-by-play, while D.J. Shockley supplies the analysis. Dawn Davenport 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:

The benefits of playing Alabama

Saban and Thompson agree: Tua should play!

Central Michigan morphed into the Crimson Tide

– Game notes from The Citadel and Alabama

– SoCon weekly release

SEC weekly release

– Brandon Rainey and Aron Spann III receive SoCon player of the week honors

“The Heat” — Samford edition

– AFCA FCS Coaches’ poll

– AP Top 25 poll (FBS)

– Brent Thompson’s 11/13 press conference

Nick Saban’s 11/12 press conference

My game review of The Citadel’s victory over Samford

My game review of the last time The Citadel played an SEC opponent (bonus: the Twitter response)

While The Citadel is through with its SoCon campaign, the league title race (and the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs) has not yet been decided. The possibility of a tie for the title between two or three teams still exists.

Naturally, because this is the SoCon, there has been some controversy over the tiebreaker that could be necessary to determine the auto-bid.

This tiebreaker is based on points allowed in conference play. It is an odd way to break the tie, inasmuch as you would think points allowed among the affected teams would be a more appropriate way to resolve it (or point differential, for that matter), but this is the SoCon and that is how the league set it up. Of course, it is hard to tell what the conference’s original intent was in terms of points allowed, given how the tiebreaker scenario is described:

That is a muddle, isn’t it?

It reminds me of another SoCon tiebreaking debacle, this one in hoops. At the end of the 1985-86 basketball season, there was a three-way tie for seventh place in the league. At that time, there were nine teams in the conference, but only eight advanced to the SoCon basketball tournament. Therefore, one of the three tied teams (VMI, The Citadel, and Furman) had to be eliminated.

The conference did not have a clear rule as to what to do in a three-way tie, so then-league commissioner Ken Germann ruled that VMI and Furman would play in the tournament, while The Citadel was out. However, Bulldogs AD Walt Nadzak appealed to the conference’s basketball committee, which reversed the commissioner’s ruling and put The Citadel in the conference tourney, at the expense of the Paladins.

That led to a memorable quote by Furman basketball coach Butch Estes, who said “If the commissioner had any backbone, we would play it off on a court like gentlemen.”

I always enjoyed that particular line, with the coach stating the situation should be resolved “like gentlemen” while in the same sentence saying that the league commissioner didn’t have a spine.

Germann retired the following year.

While at Bryant-Denny Stadium, The Citadel’s football team will dress in the visitors’ locker room, which is known as The Fail Room. Yes, you read that correctly.

It is actually named for a longtime Crimson Tide benefactor, James M. Fail. As the story goes:

“This naming opportunity came at Mr. Fail’s request,” said Mal Moore, Director of Athletics. “Mr. Fail has been such a strong supporter of ours and had already made a significant gift to name our media suite in memory of his late father-in-law, former Birmingham Post-Herald sports editor Naylor Stone. But he had always been hesitant to use his unique name for a naming right until the right opportunity came along.”

 

“Anything I’ve done would not have been possible without the University of Alabama,” [Fail] said…”Now, many years later, I am honored to give back to the school that means so much to me. Earlier this year, when I saw the visitors’ locker room as a potential naming right, I figured it was the most appropriate opportunity I would ever have to use my name.”

Fail made his gift in late 2008, a little over a year before his death at age 83.

Bryant-Denny Stadium currently seats 101,821, though I don’t expect it to be filled to capacity for the game on Saturday. That said, there is a good chance the stadium will host the largest crowd to ever see The Citadel play a football game. The current record in that category is 90,374, for the Bulldogs’ game against Florida in 2008.

When Denny Field (named for George H. Denny, the school president who spearheaded its construction) opened in 1929, it had seats for 6,000 fans. It has expanded numerous times since then. The stadium was renamed Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1975, while Paul “Bear” Bryant was still coaching the football team.

Alabama’s proposed athletic facility renovations include an upgrade to the stadium, one which could slightly reduce its seating capacity:

The plan is highlighted by renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium that will cost more than $250 million. The precise cost of renovations may still change in the years to come, and exact dates for renovations haven’t yet been set. All facilities plans are subject to approval by the board of trustees, and fundraising goals must still be met.

The first phase, which is expected to include changes to the Mal Moore building and include some of the renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium, could begin during the fall of 2019 or after the 2019 football season. The first round of renovations to the stadium are estimated to cost $78 million. It is likely to reduce seating to less than 100,000 from its current capacity of 101,821, [AD Greg] Byrne said, but the exact capacity after renovations isn’t known.

It will add a student terrace in the stadium’s south end zone, with a large, new video board positioned over the student section. Byrne said he doesn’t anticipate cutting down on the total number of seats in the student section. The north end zone will also receive two new video boards for those who can’t see the video board in the south end.

Bryant-Denny Stadium has only been the primary home stadium for Alabama over the last 20 years or so. For decades, the Crimson Tide generally split home games between Bryant-Denny and Legion Field in Birmingham, with the larger Legion Field hosting most of the “big” SEC games (Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, etc.). Most non-conference games and select SEC matchups (including Mississippi State and Vanderbilt on a regular basis) were played at Bryant-Denny.

Once Bryant-Denny’s expansion reached a point where it was just as large (if not larger) than Legion Field, Alabama started playing all of its home games in Tuscaloosa.

This partly explains Bear Bryant’s amazing 72-2 career record at Bryant-Denny Stadium, as he only faced the Auburn/LSU/Tennessee triumvirate one time on that field (a 1980 game versus LSU, won by the Tide 28-7).

On the other hand, 72-2 is still a remarkable statistic. The two losses were to Florida in 1963, and to Southern Mississippi in 1982. The latter contest was the final game Bryant coached at the stadium.

His first game (and victory) at Bryant-Denny, in 1958, came against a Southern Conference opponent — Furman. The Paladins lost two games to Bryant at the stadium. Two other Palmetto State schools, South Carolina and Clemson, were both 0-3 against him there.

Lately, the Saban vs. Bryant debate has (on at least a national level) swung heavily in favor of the current Alabama coach. Now, it’s quite possible Nick Saban may make this a moot point if he coaches for another decade and keeps winning games and titles at his current pace, but I think a lot of people are engaged in recency bias when it comes to evaluating Bryant’s career.

One of the common observations is that Saban has won in a “more competitive” era. I’m not sure I buy that, for several reasons, not the least of which is defining Bryant’s career as a singular “era” is rather difficult.

For one thing, Bryant coached roughly half of his career when substitution was restricted, and the other half when unlimited substitution became the rule. He was one of the great coaches in the time of limited substitutions, and he was the first dominant coach when free substitution became the order of the day.

Another issue with defining his “era” that has to be mentioned:  Bryant coached all-white teams that won championships, and he coached integrated teams that won championships. His on-field success in making that transition could be considered somewhat unusual.

Bryant’s ability to adapt was probably his outstanding trait as a coach. He won with great passing quarterbacks like Joe Namath and Ken Stabler, and he also won after switching to the wishbone in the early 1970s.

He had two spectacular runs at Alabama. It is rare for a coach to basically have a “second act” at the same school (especially when he never left), but Bryant did just that.

In a seven-year period from 1960-66, he lost a total of six games. Then, after a bit of a slump in 1969-70, he went on another extended roll, going 107-13 from 1971 to 1980.

Bryant also won the SEC title at Kentucky in 1950, the only time that school has ever won the conference crown in football (not counting a 1976 shared title, which included an after-the-fact forfeit win). That has to give him a bonus point or two.

The other undeniable thing Bryant had going for him was an incredible charismatic presence, perhaps best demonstrated by this amazing TV commercial for a telephone company. The last line — “I sure wish I could call mine” — was a complete ad-lib by the coach.

Nick Saban himself is quite comfortable on TV, and is not devoid of personality, but surely no coach of any era has had Bryant’s gravitas, or his voice for that matter (which is probably for the best, given how many thousands of Chesterfields must have contributed to that tone).

Of course, if Saban wins another four or five national championships, they won’t bother renaming the stadium after him — they’ll rename the school after him. Saban University, aight?

In that scenario, the stadium would presumably be renamed after Miss Terry…

Bear Bryant had one career victory over The Citadel. Nick Saban also has one win over the Bulldogs.

Bryant’s 1949 Kentucky team defeated The Citadel 44-0. That season, the Wildcats also had shutout victories over LSU, Georgia, Mississippi, and Florida en route to a 9-3 campaign.

The next season, Kentucky won the SEC title and finished 11-1, including a defeat of top-ranked Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

In 2002, The Citadel played Saban’s LSU Tigers in a night game in Baton Rouge, with the Bayou Bengals winning 35-10. That season, LSU was only 8-5.

However, the following year LSU won the national title with a 13-1 record, defeating Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

Hmm…

Alabama fans might want to start making plans for next year’s CFP title game, which happens to be in New Orleans, and they might also start thinking about how to distinguish between Alabama crimson and Oklahoma crimson.

Much of the discussion for this game from the Alabama perspective centers around starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (6’1″, 218 lbs.), the current favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Tagovailoa has had a marvelous season, throwing 28 touchdown passes while only being intercepted twice, with a 67.9% completion percentage.

The sophomore, who hails from Ewa Beach, Hawai’i, is averaging a ludicrous 11.7 yards per pass attempt (not accounting for sacks). When he throws the ball, 47% of the time the result of the play is a first down or touchdown.

However, Tagovailoa has been playing with a balky knee for the past few games, and while he will almost certainly start against The Citadel, how long he stays in the game is open to question. Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts (6’2″, 218 lbs.) is a more than capable signal-caller, to say the least (Hurts is 26-2 as a starter), but the junior from Houston is also injured and unlikely to see action versus the Bulldogs.

There is a decent chance third-string QB Mac Jones (6’2″, 205 lbs.) will see the bulk of the playing time for the Crimson Tide in Saturday’s game. Jones is a redshirt freshman from Jacksonville who was a four-star prospect coming out of high school. In other words, he is a very talented quarterback in his own right.

Among the plethora of outstanding players at the offensive skill positions for the Crimson Tide are sophomore wide receiver Jerry Jeudy (6’1″, 192 lbs.), who seems to be good for at least two long TD catches per game (he is averaging 20.6 yards per reception); freshman wideout Jaylen Waddle (5’10”, 177 lbs.), a big-play threat as a receiver (18.8 yards/catch) and an impact punt returner (14.6 yards/return); and running back Damien Harris (5’11”, 215 lbs.), a senior from Richmond, Kentucky, who is approaching 3,000 yards rushing for his career in Tuscaloosa.

It says something about the depth at Alabama that Damien Harris (a great player) may not even be the most talented running back named Harris on the Crimson Tide roster, because sophomore Najee Harris (6’2″, 230 lbs.) is a gridiron dynamo who is averaging 6.8 yards per carry.

Henry Ruggs III (6’0″, 183 lbs.), a big-play threat from Montgomery, has 28 receptions for the Tide this season, with 8 of the sophomore’s catches resulting in touchdowns. Then there is DeVonta Smith (6’1″, 173 lbs.), another sophomore, who is best known for hauling in the winning touchdown pass against Georgia in the CFP title game. Smith has missed time this season due to injury but still has 3 TD catches.

Alabama’s projected starters on the offensive line average 6’5″, 313 lbs. Junior left tackle Jonah Williams (6’5″, 301 lbs.), a native of Folsom, California, has made 38 starts for the Crimson Tide during his career.

Starting center Ross Pierschbacher (6’4″, 309 lbs.), whose last name fits comfortably on the back of his jersey, has made 51 career starts for Alabama. Williams and Pierschbacher were both first-team All-SEC picks after last season.

Alabama has plenty of intimidating defensive players, but none are quite as frightening to opposing offenses as noseguard Quinnen Williams (6’4″, 295 lbs.). The redshirt sophomore from Birmingham has dominated all season; just check out this twitter thread of his play versus Mississippi.

Williams, the national defensive player of the week for his performance against LSU, has been so good some pundits have begun to suggest he deserves Heisman consideration. He may be The Citadel’s toughest obstacle in trying to run its triple option offense, though Williams will have plenty of help.

Isaiah Buggs (6’5″, 286 lbs.), an imposing defensing end from Ruston, Louisiana, leads Alabama in sacks with 9 1/2.  He had 3 1/2 of those sacks against Texas A&M, garnering SEC player of the week honors as a result.

Linebacker Dylan Moses (6’3″, 233 lbs.) leads the Crimson Tide in tackles this season, with 54, including 9 for loss (3 1/2 sacks). The sophomore from Baton Rouge is described by UA’s website as a “freak athlete”; before enrolling at Alabama, Moses won the 2016 high school version of the Butkus Award as the top prep linebacker.

Deionte Thompson (6’2″, 196 lbs.), a free safety from Orange, Texas, paces the Tide with 32 solo stops. The redshirt junior also has two interceptions, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery.

Christian Miller (6’4″, 244 lbs.), a redshirt senior, is having a fine season after missing much of last year with an arm injury (though he did see action late in the campaign, including the playoff games against Clemson and Georgia). The linebacker from Columbia, SC, has 7 1/2 sacks so far in 2018, and was the SEC defensive player of the week after recording 2 1/2 sacks versus Mississippi.

Miller will become the second member of his immediate family to face The Citadel, as his father Corey played for South Carolina when the Bulldogs and Gamecocks met in 1990. Corey Miller was arguably South Carolina’s best defensive player on that occasion, although it probably provided the elder Miller little solace.

Placekicker Joseph Bulovas (6’0″, 206 lbs.), a redshirt freshman from Mandeville, Louisiana, is 10 for 14 on field goal attempts this year. Last week against Mississippi State, he connected on a 49-yarder, his longest of the season. Bulovas also handles kickoffs for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama has employed two punters this season, including freshman Skyler DeLong (6’4″, 189 lbs.), a Ft. Mill native. DeLong has not punted in a game since October 13, however, as walk-on senior Mike Bernier (6’2″, 219 lbs.) has seen action in the last three games.

Mac Jones serves as the team’s holder on placements. As mentioned earlier, Jaylen Waddle is the primary punt returner (and a very dangerous one).

Alabama lists four different kick returners on its two-deep, including Najee Harris and fellow running back Josh Jacobs (5’10”, 216 lbs.), a versatile player from Tulsa who returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Louisville. Jacobs leads Alabama in total touchdowns, with nine rushing, one receiving, and the kick return TD versus the Cardinals.

Odds and ends:

– The weather forecast for Saturday in Tuscaloosa, per the National Weather Service:  partly sunny, with a high of 62 degrees.

– This will be the first gridiron meeting between The Citadel and Alabama, although Alabama’s media guide (in the “Series vs. 2018 opponents” section) credits the Tide with beating the Bulldogs twice, in 1939 and 1940. That is an error. I suspect it is a transposition mistake from last season, when the Crimson Tide played Mercer (which did play Alabama in 1939 and 1940).

– Other SEC teams that have yet to face the Bulldogs: Mississippi State and Missouri.

– Alabama’s winning streak against unranked teams (80 games) is the longest in FBS history and a fairly well-known statistic. What I did not know until perusing the Crimson Tide’s game notes is that Alabama has also dominated games against teams ranked outside of the AP top 15, losing only once to an opponent in that category since 2008. That happened in 2010, against South Carolina (a/k/a “The Stephen Garcia Game”).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, Alabama is a 51-point favorite versus The Citadel (as of Tuesday night). The over/under is 60 1/2.

Against the spread this season, The Citadel is 4-5. The over has hit in five of the nine contests, with one of the others a push.

– Other lines involving SoCon teams (also as of Tuesday night):  Samford is an 8-point favorite at East Tennessee State; Furman is an 8-point favorite at Mercer; Wofford is a 35 1/2 point favorite versus Presbyterian; Chattanooga is a 31-point underdog at South Carolina; and Western Carolina is a 30 1/2 point underdog at North Carolina.

Samford initially opened as a 10-point favorite against ETSU, but the line dropped two points in less than 24 hours.

– Also of note: Towson is a 3-point underdog against James Madison, and Charleston Southern is a 2-point favorite at Campbell.

– Massey Ratings: The Citadel is ranked 50th in FCS, up ten spots from last week, a fairly significant jump. Alabama, as you might imagine, is ranked first among all FBS squads.

Massey projects Alabama will win the game on Saturday, with a predicted final score of 57-0.

Other FCS rankings of note in Massey: Colgate (6th), James Madison (8th), Towson (11th), Kennesaw State (12th), Elon (15th), Wofford (22nd), Furman (31st), East Tennessee State (34th), Samford (36th, a fall of 13 spots), North Carolina A&T (42nd), Chattanooga (49th), Mercer (51st), San Diego (58th), Holy Cross (60th), Richmond (64th), Duquesne (69th), South Carolina State (74th, a 13-spot jump), Western Carolina (82nd), North Alabama (87th), Campbell (88th), Charleston Southern (89th), VMI (99th), Gardner-Webb (101st), Lehigh (105th), Davidson (117th), Presbyterian (123rd), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (125th and last).

Massey’s top 5 FCS squads: North Dakota State, Princeton, Dartmouth, South Dakota State, and Eastern Washington.

As I noted last week, Massey tends to overrate the top Ivy League programs, a quirk that is almost certainly due to the lack of connectivity in scheduling between the Ivy League and the rest of FCS. Dartmouth managed to rise from 5th to 3rd in the rankings after beating a 3-6 Cornell team by 11 points. That doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

Biggest movers in FCS this week: William and Mary moved up 18 spots (from 58th to 40th) after winning at Villanova, 24-17. Meanwhile, Austin Peay fell 17 places (from 66th to 83rd) after getting pummeled 52-21 by Eastern Illinois.

Massey’s top ten FBS teams (in order): Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, West Virginia, UCF. Some other notables:  Florida is 12th, Kentucky 15th, Mississippi State 17th, Auburn 19th, South Carolina 22nd, Utah State 26th, Northwestern 29th, Boston College 30th, Tennessee 34th, North Carolina State 35th, Duke 36th, Army 37th, Georgia Tech 42nd, Appalachian State 50th, Wake Forest 52nd, Troy 58th, Maryland 60th, UAB 62nd, Florida State 65th, Memphis 71st, Air Force 83rd, Toledo 85th, Arkansas State 87th, North Texas 88th, Georgia Southern 89th, Louisiana-Lafayette 94th, North Carolina 95th, Louisville 102nd, Navy 103rd, Coastal Carolina 104th, Liberty 107th, Old Dominion 113th, Charlotte 114th, Rutgers 116th, South Alabama 128th, and Rice 130th and last.

Biggest movers in FBS this week:  Minnesota rowed the boat up 16 places (from 82nd to 66th) after a 41-10 beatdown of Purdue. San Diego State and North Texas each fell 17 spots after losing to UNLV and Old Dominion, respectively.

– Among Alabama’s notable alumni: writer Gay Talese, actor/singer Jim Nabors (“Shazam!”), actress Sela Ward (who was a cheerleader at Alabama), and legendary baseball announcer Mel Allen (“How about that!”).

Bernie Madoff went to Alabama, but left after just one year in Tuscaloosa, so we won’t hold him against the school.

– Alabama’s roster includes 39 players from from Alabama. Other states represented on its squad:  Texas (12 players), Florida (12), Louisiana (11), Georgia (7), California (6), Maryland (5), South Carolina (4), Mississippi (4), Tennessee (2), Kentucky (2), and one player each from Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, Utah, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana, and Hawai’i. Linebacker Terrell Lewis is from Washington, DC.

Alabama scours the country for footballing prodigies, which is rather apparent when the roster includes players from 23 states plus the District of Columbia. Just eyeballing the list, I am mildly surprised there are only four Mississippians on the team, along with two natives of Tennessee. That seems a touch low for those two border states.

There are four South Carolinians on the Crimson Tide squad — punter Skyler DeLong (Nation Ford High School in Ft. Mill), linebacker Jaylen Moody (Conway High School), defensive lineman Stephon Wynn Jr. (from Anderson; transferred from T.L. Hanna to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior year in high school), and linebacker Christian Miller (Spring Valley High School in Columbia).

However, there are no players from internationally renowned pigskin powerhouse Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School. This is profoundly mystifying, given the Tide’s hunger for gridiron superstars. When the dynasty ends (and all dynasties do at some point), there is no question that the biggest reason for Alabama’s downfall will be its failure to recruit talent from the famed maroon and orange.

– 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 changes:  There aren’t many changes from last week’s depth chart. Lorenzo Ward and Keyonte Sessions are again listed as starters. Raleigh Webb is now listed as one of the two primary kick returners.

– The Citadel has an all-time record of just 2-10 for games played on November 17. The Citadel is 2-5 on the road on that date. While those totals are very poor, there is a silver lining — the Bulldogs have won their two most recent games played on November 17 after losing their first ten contests.

A brief review of those two victories, as we travel back in time on the TSA Wayback Machine:

  • 2007: At Lexington, Virginia, The Citadel clobbered VMI 70-28 to retain the coveted Silver Shako. Tory Cooper scored three touchdowns and Tim Higgins scored twice. Other Bulldogs to find the end zone that day included Andre Roberts, Bart Blanchard, Ta’Mar Jernigan, Taylor Cornett, and Cam Turner. Cooper had 176 yards rushing, while Roberts had 128 receiving yards. Mike Adams converted all ten of his PATs. The Citadel finished the afternoon with 509 total yards of offense.
  • 2012: The Citadel defeated Furman at Paladin Stadium, 42-20. I was there and wrote about the game. VanDyke Jones rushed for three touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Dalton Trevino, Domonic Jones, and Ben Dupree also scored TDs. A key play in the contest was a fake punt successfully executed by Cass Couey. The defense was led by James Riley, who had 12 tackles.

– Alabama claims seventeen national championships in football, under five different head coaches — Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Nick Saban. Bryant is credited with having coached six national title teams, while Saban has coached five Crimson Tide squads to a #1 finish (he also has a sixth title from his tenure at LSU).

The Citadel has only two claimed national titles in football (1871 and 1906), though like Alabama, the Bulldogs have won championships in two different centuries. While The Citadel’s 1871 crown is essentially undisputed, the 1906 title is a more recent claim and is shared with two other schools (Yale and Princeton).

Brent Thompson, at his press conference on Tuesday:

Obviously, this is a very important football game for us, for a lot of reasons. We want to just go out there and make a great showing, compete our butts off, as best as we possibly can, on such a big and grand stage. It’s going to be a exciting atmosphere for us. They are a very, very good football team, the best we’ve probably ever seen. There are not a whole lot of deficiencies [for Alabama] on either side of the ball, they’re extremely fast, they’re extremely physical, they play very strong. It will be all that we can do to be able to move the ball and to stop them from scoring, but we certainly will give them everything that we’ve got.

I feel confident that the Bulldogs will play very hard, and will compete to their utmost. The issue is how effective that effort will be against a team as comprehensively talented as Alabama.

Call me a Pollyanna, but I think The Citadel will acquit itself well on Saturday. I’m not predicting the biggest upset in modern college football history, but I think the Bulldogs will surprise some people.

I certainly hope so.

Go Dogs!

The Citadel begins its search for a new AD

On Tuesday, Larry Leckonby resigned as director of athletics at The Citadel to take a similar job at Catawba College, a Division II school in North Carolina.

In doing so, he became the first “modern” AD at The Citadel to take another full-time position. The previous three directors of athletics at the school (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, and Les Robinson) all retired after their respective tenures at the military college.

The move was not unexpected. Indeed, last month a Clemson-oriented website breathlessly reported that “Clemson Associate Athletic Director Bill D’Andrea is the leading candidate to become the new athletic director at The Citadel”, which was news to just about everyone, since at the time the position was occupied (more on that later in this post).

At the time, Leckonby told The Post and Courier‘s Jeff Hartsell “Not that I know of,” in response to a question as to whether or not he was leaving. However, rumors persisted through the end of April and into May.

There is a whiff of “jump or be pushed” in assessing the reasons for Leckonby’s departure.

In six years, he developed a reputation as being good at balancing a budget. Some observers occasionally maligned him as a “bean counter”, which was probably unfair.

For one thing, bean counters are necessary. Leckonby had work to do on that front when he first arrived in Charleston. From all accounts, he handled it well.

However, Leckonby’s time at the school was marked by generally unsuccessful performances by The Citadel’s varsity teams. While he was AD, the department only won one SoCon team title (2010 baseball).

The rifle team did capture the SEARC championship in 2011 (the SoCon doesn’t sponsor rifle). It is also only fair to note that the wrestling team had some truly outstanding individual accomplishments in the last few years.

The Citadel’s highest-profile sports, though, were a sore spot. In the last four decades, the military college has only had five school years during which the football, basketball, and baseball teams all had losing records. However, three of those years have come in the last four campaigns.

Leckonby’s hiring of Chuck Driesell as head basketball coach has yet to produce on-court success, to say the least. The football program has continued a 15-year rut (and counting) of mostly sub-.500 seasons, and even the Diamond Dogs have scuffled as of late.

All of The Citadel’s varsity sports are important to the college, but the “big three” have a special place in the hearts of the school’s alums/supporters. It hurts the department as a whole when none of them are doing well.

Leckonby was perceived in some quarters as being largely indifferent to a variety of issues of varying importance. Just to name a few: the corps of cadets’ seating during football gamesthe overall ambiance at Johnson Hagood Stadium; the disposition of the cheerleading squad; the mascot program; and the much-criticized video streaming service.

I’m not going to throw him under the bus for all of that, largely because it’s hard for me to determine how much of that was him being difficult (or shortsighted) and how much was Leckonby simply following orders. You can’t blame him for everything.

In accepting the position at Catawba, Leckonby stated that he wanted to focus on “one-on-one engagement with Catawba’s coaching staff, its student-athletes and with all of those who support the athletics program.” That’s an admirable desire. I wish him well at Catawba. I’m sure everyone else who supports The Citadel does, too. 

I think the newly open position will be an attractive one. It isn’t an easy job by any means (and may get more difficult as the years go by).

However, there is a lot to be said for running the department of athletics at an outstanding school, located in Charleston, with a loyal fan base, and that has a history of being patient with administrators and coaches (the person hired for the job will become only the fifth AD at The Citadel since 1957). It’s a good gig.

Already, a number of people have been mentioned as candidates. The first name that popped up, as mentioned above, was Bill D’Andrea, a longtime Clemson administrator who is retiring from that school. D’Andrea has not been particularly shy about his interest (confirming as much late Tuesday morning in an email to WCSC-TV sportscaster Kevin Bilodeau).

I am more than a little dubious about the “sources” referenced by Clemson Insider‘s William Qualkinbush, who suggested in April that D’Andrea was “the leading candidate” for the position. His article also initially stated that The Citadel was a private institution; if a media member doesn’t know enough about the school to know that it is public, then I’m not really confident in any tips he is getting about the inner workings of the Board of Visitors.

Clemson Insider remains confident in its reporting. Fair enough.

D’Andrea has a fine reputation and is very popular in key Clemson circles. However, he is just one of many qualified people who will be in the mix. Other names that will be (or have been) mentioned for the job: Jerry Baker, John Hartwell, Fred Jordan, Geoff Von Dollen, Robby Robinson, Harvey Schiller, and Kelly Simpson. Some of them may not actually be interested. Many will be.

The search for a new AD should be a wide-ranging one that leaves no stone unturned. Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier wrote in his Wednesday column that there is “no need to search from sea to shining sea and bring in 11 candidates for first-round interviews.” I completely disagree.

I have no idea where he came up with the number eleven, but if it is in the school’s best interests to bring in that specific number of people for initial interviews, then the search committee should do so. And yes, I think a “search from sea to shining sea” is more than appropriate. It’s necessary.

This is an important hire. It has be made with due process and careful consideration.

Obviously, the new AD has to be able to grasp what The Citadel is all about sooner rather than later. That is just one of many attributes the new director of athletics must have. Two others are perhaps of the utmost importance.

1) He or she must be a great fundraiser. Not a good fundraiser, but a great one — both from a personal perspective, and in terms of organizational ability.

If a candidate tells the search committee, “I can raise $20 million per year,” the first question a committee member asks should be, “What about $40 million?”

2) The new AD has to have a long-term vision for varsity athletics, one that matches the needs of the institution.

There are some supporters of The Citadel (including me) who believe the school should have a more expansive sports portfolio. Not everyone is on board with that line of thinking, of course. However, I think most alums/supporters would agree with the idea that an educational institution should be treated as an investment, rather than a series of journal entries in a general accounting ledger.

I want the next director of athletics to be an imaginative thinker and a creative force of nature. I want him or her to have big plans, and possess the wherewithal to make those plans come to life.

The next few weeks are going to be fascinating. I hope they will also be productive.

I’ll be watching, and listening, and maybe pontificating from time to time.

Won’t we all…

Home football attendance at The Citadel, 1964-2011: an analysis

I’ve written about home attendance at The Citadel on the blog before, as far back as 2009. With this post, though, I’m going to compare yearly win/loss numbers with how many people were in the stands. Basically, I’m trying to see how a history of winning (or not winning) correlates with attendance.

There are a lot of factors that lead to attendance increasing or decreasing, but the biggest one is the product on the field. Fans want to see a winner. What I set out to determine, to the best of my ability, was whether ticket sales at The Citadel in a given year go up or down based on the team’s play that particular season, or if prior seasons also make an impact.

To do that, I compiled the attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium for every season since 1964 (seasonal totals; I don’t have that many of the individual game summaries). For some of the information, I received assistance from The Citadel’s Athletics Media Relations office, for which I am most grateful. Therefore, I promise to support Northwestern University football (preseason ranking: 59) throughout the 2012 Big 10 campaign. It’s the least I can do.

I’m going to take a few paragraphs to discuss the lack of available information for the pre-1966 years, and mention a few other odds and ends. Feel free to skip to the main section of this post if necessary…

Ideally, it would be possible to compare attendance totals all the way back to at least 1948, the year Johnson Hagood Stadium opened. However, compiling numbers from the pre-1966 years is problematic. I have checked newspaper accounts in an attempt to fill in gaps, but I am not confident in the accuracy of some of those listings. I am reasonably satisfied that the 1964 and 1965 seasons are accurate, so I included them in my study.

I value completeness as much as anyone, and I hope someday to have “good” attendance numbers for the 1940s/1950s/early 1960s. I know there are people interested in those years; I’m one of them. A few other notes on this subject:

– While I suspect newspaper writers of the time were generally good at estimating crowd totals, I was struck by how often scribes would suggest the crowd was actually larger than the stated attendance. In the 1960 home opener against Newberry, Ed Campbell wrote that “Citadel officials estimated the opening night crowd at 13,000 persons, although it was difficult to figure out how 8,000 more fans could have crammed into the [21,000 listed capacity] arena.”

On the front page of that same day’s paper, the estimated attendance was listed at “some 14,000 fans”, a “pleasant and generally sober crowd”.

The Citadel’s next home game that season was a notable contest against Florida State, a scoreless tie universally regarded as one of the Bulldogs’ all-time best results. Here again there were two different sets of attendance numbers in The News and Courier, with the game story describing “11,200 screaming fans”, while the front of the paper feature article listed a crowd of 12,000. That front-page piece includes one of the funnier alibis ever offered by a reporter unable to get a good quote or story:

The fans themselves were too interested in the ball game to provide material for journalistic comment.

Another example of a reporter questioning the attendance totals in 1960 (for the game against Presbyterian): was it 12,000 (per The Citadel) or “at least 15,000” (the writer’s opinion)? Even the Homecoming game against VMI that year was subject to debate, as the official total was announced as 13,970 despite the fact that the crowd “looked to some veteran observers to be more like 17,000”.

– The totals in The News and Courier generally were rounded. For instance, the listed totals in the paper for 1962’s home games were as follows: 10,200 (Davidson); 10,500 (Presbyterian), 10,300 (William&Mary); 10,100 (VMI); and 10,600 (Memphis State). I don’t have much faith in those totals, based on how similar they are (10,X00) and the “rounded-off” nature of them. I also find it hard to believe attendance in 1962 only deviated by 500 people per game for the five games. I consider them decidedly “unofficial” until convinced otherwise.

– I do not have the newspaper’s estimated totals for one game in 1961 and one game in 1963, so I wouldn’t have included them anyway, even if I thought the numbers were accurate and/or official. This is too bad, particularly for 1961, as a listing of home attendance figures for that year’s SoCon title team would have been noteworthy. For the record, I’m missing the home opener that year against George Washington. Attendance for the other four home games that season had an estimated range of 7,250 (Richmond) to 16,200 (a big Parents’ Day battle with Furman with league title ramifications, won by the Bulldogs 9-8).

– A crowd of 10,600 (apparently a go-to number for attendance) watched The Citadel lose the 1963 home finale to Richmond. Included in that alleged 10,600 was the former king of Italy, Umberto II. I am guessing it will be a while before another Italian king watches a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

If the great Umberto Eco were to make an appearance at the stadium, however, that would more than make up for it. Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus.

– Speaking of things that happened in 1963 that don’t really have anything to do with attendance, but which I encountered while doing some research and figured were interesting enough to throw in anyway: Vince Petno was the featured subject in the first “live” color photograph ever published by a South Carolina newspaper (at least, according to The News and Courier). The photo was in print “less than nine hours after the action occurred.”

Okay, table time. I took the average per game attendance numbers at JHS for 1964-2011 and compared them to the team’s win/loss totals in the following categories: winning percentage from the previous season, winning percentage for the current season, combined winning percentage for the previous season and the current one, and the combined winning percentage over three-, five-, and ten-year periods (with the current season being the final year in each category).

I wanted to test theories such as:

– Is attendance generally predicated on how a team did the year before, or is the current campaign more important?

– How much “goodwill” does a program buy if it is successful for multiple consecutive seasons?

I’ve posted tables listing the top 10 seasons in each category for 1964-2011, along with the corresponding bottom 10. Occasionally, there will be eleven seasons instead of ten, because of ties.

First, average attendance per game:

       Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495
1975 6 5 109,920 18,320
1976 6 5 90,830 18,166
1979 6 5 89,190 17,838
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684
1989 5 5 70,457 17,614
1980 7 4 105,415 17,569
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578
1990 7 5 97,730 16,288
1997 6 5 73,036 12,172
1973 3 8 73,020 12,170
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119
1968 5 5 55,088 11,017
1964 4 6 52,600 10,520
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812

The first ten years are the best years for average attendance. The second group is the bottom ten. (That is how all the tables to follow are set up as well.)

Although 1992 comes in fifth place for average attendance in a season, in my opinion it was actually first. The Citadel claimed its second Southern Conference title that year, of course, and won a school-record 11 games. It also hosted eight home contests, due to two playoff matchups.

The official totals for those two playoff games were 12,300 (North Carolina A&T) and 13,021 (Youngstown State). As someone who attended both games, I can attest that those numbers are ludicrous, underestimating the actual totals by at least 5,000 people for each game. I assume the NCAA had something to do with that.

Even if you conservatively credit attendance for those games as including an extra 3,500 fans, 1992 would hold the per-game record.

Next up, the top 10 and bottom 10 teams by winning percentage:

       Year         Wins      Losses       Win %         T-Att     Avg-Att   Rank-Att
1992 11 2 84.62% 141,477 17,684 5
1971 8 3 72.73% 89,440 14,906 21
1969 7 3 70.00% 100,759 16,793 8
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 68.18% 105,725 15,103 17
1988 8 4 66.67% 94,509 15,751 12
1991 7 4 63.64% 92,476 18,495 1
1980 7 4 63.64% 105,415 17,569 7
1984 7 4 63.64% 75,050 15,010 19
2007 7 4 63.64% 82,541 13,756 31
1990 7 5 58.33% 97,730 16,288 10
2001 3 7 30.00% 78,333 15,666 13
2004 3 7 30.00% 40,435 10,108 47
1983 3 8 27.27% 79,825 15,956 11
1986 3 8 27.27% 83,348 13,891 29
1973 3 8 27.27% 73,020 12,170 40
2010 3 8 27.27% 68,669 11,445 42
2002 3 9 25.00% 93,491 15,581 14
1965 2 8 20.00% 62,394 10,399 46
1999 2 9 18.18% 86,898 14,483 25
2000 2 9 18.18% 71,712 14,342 27
1995 2 9 18.18% 83,209 13,868 30

The bottom 10 is actually eleven teams, as there is a tie. The “Rank-Att” category is the actual rank of each year in per-game attendance; for example, 1969 is the eighth-best attended season in the 48-year period in this study. This column will be included in the remainder of the tables.

Obviously, winning in the current season correlates strongly with improved attendance. Five of the top 10 winning seasons of all time are also in the top 10 for the most-attended campaigns. Only one year in that group (2007) is outside the top half for attendance.

Four of the bottom 10 in winning percentage are also in the bottom 10 for attendance. Average attendance for the top 10 winning teams: 16,150. For the 10 losing teams: 13,464.

What about success (or a lack thereof) from the year before? This time the category is “last year’s winning percentage”:

        Year         Wins       Losses   LY Win %         T-Att     Avg-Att    Att Rank
1993 5 6 84.62% 89,016 14,836 22
1972 5 6 72.73% 66,287 13,257 33
1970 5 6 70.00% 74,690 14,938 20
1982 5 6 68.18% 91,320 15,220 16
1989 5 5 (1 tie) 66.67% 70,457 17,614 6
1992 11 2 63.64% 141,477 17,684 5
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 63.64% 105,725 15,103 17
1985 5 5 (1 tie) 63.64% 88,603 14,767 23
2008 4 8 63.64% 73,568 12,261 38
1991 7 4 58.33% 92,476 18,495 1
2002 3 9 30.00% 93,491 15,581 14
2005 4 7 30.00% 58,369 11,673 41
1984 7 4 27.27% 75,050 15,010 19
1987 4 7 27.27% 83,490 13,915 28
2011 4 7 27.27% 76,758 12,793 37
1974 4 7 27.27% 55,597 11,119 43
2003 6 6 25.00% 83,794 16,578 9
1966 4 6 20.00% 49,060 9,812 48
2001 3 7 18.18% 78,333 15,666 13
2000 2 9 18.18% 71,712 14,342 27
1996 4 7 18.18% 76,860 12,810 36

Again, another “bottom 10” with eleven teams. Just to make things clear, the record for each year is that year’s record; the “LY Win %” column lists the winning percentage from the prior season.

This category didn’t correlate as strongly to attendance as I thought it would. Only three of the top 10 attendance years are in this top ten as well, and the reverse is also true for the bottom 10. The difference in attendance between the two groups (15,407/13,602) is not as great as might have been expected.

Incidentally, the 1989 campaign only includes four home games. The two games played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia following Hurricane Hugo are not counted as home contests.

The only other season with as few as four home games in the 48-year period was 2004, when another hurricane played havoc with the schedule, leading to the cancellation of the would-be home opener against Charleston Southern.

The 2004 season (the year of “half a stadium”) also included what may have been the worst-attended home game of the 1964-2011 time frame, a Thursday night matchup against Benedict that drew 5,127 diehard fans. The fact there was little interest in attending a game in a dilapidated stadium on a Thursday night against a Division II school should not have come as a shock.

This is a post about home attendance, but while checking numbers I read a summary for the 1987 contest against Boston University, played at historic Nickerson Field in Boston. Official attendance for that game: 2,103. Yikes. That may be the lowest attendance for any game involving The Citadel in the last 30 years, if not longer. Not coincidentally, BU dropped football a few years later.

Now I’ll factor attendance based on winning percentage over two-year, three-year, five-year, and ten-year periods. In each case the final season in the grouping is the “current” campaign — for example, for three-year 1992 the seasons included are 1990, 1991, and 1992. I hope that makes sense.

Two-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att    2-yr W%    Att Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 75.00% 5
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 66.67% 22
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 65.91% 17
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 60.87% 1
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793 60.00% 8
1980 7 4 105,415 17,569 59.09% 7
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 59.09% 21
1972 5 6 66,287 13,257 59.09% 33
1989 5 5 (1 tie) 70,457 17,614 58.70% 6
1970 5 6 74,690 14,938 57.14% 20
1999 2 9 86,898 14,483 31.82% 25
1987 4 7 83,490 13,915 31.82% 28
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 31.82% 37
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 31.82% 42
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119 31.82% 43
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399 30.00% 46
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 30.00% 48
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 27.27% 14
1996 4 7 76,860 12,810 27.27% 36
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 23.81% 13
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 18.18% 27

The bottom ten is yet again made up of eleven teams.

It appears that having two bad seasons in a row is definitely a bigger drag on home attendance than just having a bad season. The two averages for this category are 16,133 (top 10) and 12,956 (bottom 10). Compare that to seasonal averages for the top 10, as listed above earlier: 16,150 (top 10) and 13,464 (bottom 10).

Three-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att    3-yr W%    Att-Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 69.44% 5
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 65.71% 22
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 62.86% 18
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 62.50% 21
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 62.12% 17
1982 5 6 91,320 15,220 59.09% 16
1990 7 5 97,730 16,288 58.57% 10
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 57.35% 1
1969 7 3 100,759 16,793 56.67% 8
1970 5 6 74,690 14,938 54.84% 20
1974 4 7 55,597 11,119 36.36% 43
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 35.29% 9
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 35.29% 47
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 33.33% 37
1965 2 8 62,394 10,399 33.33% 46
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 33.33% 48
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 32.35% 42
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 27.27% 27
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 24.24% 14
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 21.88% 13

This is very similar to the two-year category. Top 10 average: 15,947. Bottom 10 average: 12,835. The only bottom 10 season in either the two- or three-year winning percentage categories to actually finish in the top 10 in average attendance was Ellis Johnson’s 2003 squad, which went 6-6 (5-1 at JHS).

The home schedule that year, as it is in a lot of “odd-numbered” years, was conducive to a potential attendance bump, with games against Furman and Wofford (both of which were nationally ranked when they played The Citadel that season), along with Appalachian State and Charleston Southern. It’s still a bit of an outlier. Actually, home attendance for all three years of Johnson’s tenure was somewhat anomalous.

Five-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att      Avg-Att   5-yr W%    Att Rank
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 65.25% 5
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 62.07% 18
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 61.21% 22
1971 8 3 89,440 14,906 57.69% 21
1972 5 6 66,287 13,257 56.60% 33
1982 5 6 91,320 15,220 55.45% 16
1981 7 3 (1 tie) 105,725 15,103 55.45% 17
1991 7 4 92,476 18,495 55.26% 1
1995 2 9 83,209 13,868 54.39% 30
1984 7 4 75,050 15,010 53.64% 19
1967 5 5 64,060 12,812 38.00% 35
2006 5 6 72,814 14,562 37.50% 24
1999 2 9 86,898 14,483 34.55% 25
2000 2 9 71,712 14,342 34.55% 27
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673 34.55% 41
1966 4 6 49,060 9,812 34.00% 48
2001 3 7 78,333 15,666 33.33% 13
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 30.91% 47
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 28.57% 9
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 27.27% 14

The average attendance for the top 10 in this category: 15,403. For the bottom 10: 13,705.

Ten-year winning percentage:

        Year         Wins       Losses         T-Att     Avg-Att  10-yr W%    Att-Rank
1993 5 6 89,016 14,836 55.26% 22
1994 6 5 90,158 15,026 54.39% 18
1997 6 5 73,036 12,172 53.95% 39
1992 11 2 141,477 17,684 53.51% 5
1964 4 6 52,600 10,520 53.03% 45
1984 7 4 75,050 15,010 52.27% 19
1996 4 7 76,860 12,810 52.19% 36
1985 5 5 (1 tie) 88,603 14,767 51.82% 23
1998 5 6 66,453 13,290 51.77% 32
1995 2 9 83,209 13,868 51.32% 30
2011 4 7 76,758 12,793 38.39% 37
2010 3 8 68,669 11,445 37.84% 42
2009 4 7 65,147 13,029 36.94% 34
2007 7 4 82,541 13,756 36.36% 31
2006 5 6 72,814 14,562 35.45% 24
2003 6 6 83,794 16,578 35.14% 9
2008 4 8 73,568 12,261 35.14% 38
2002 3 9 93,491 15,581 34.55% 14
2005 4 7 58,369 11,673 34.55% 41
2004 3 7 40,435 10,108 32.73% 47

This can be looked at in two different ways…

Perhaps Larry Leckonby can take solace in the fact that there is no obvious correlation at all for this category. In other words, the difference in attendance for the top 10 (14,177) and the bottom 10 (13,252) can easily be attributed to more recent campaigns, and not any permanent decline due to a long stretch of futility.

On the other hand, look at that bottom 10. It is actually completely made up of the last 10 seasons!

That says it all about the current cycle of Bulldogs football, and the need for a sustained stretch of success. An argument could be made that The Citadel’s struggles on the field since 1995 have erased what possibly could have been a continued gradual increase in attendance. I personally do not subscribe to that view in full — there are many other factors at play — but it is true that the losing has made it difficult to determine what The Citadel’s “natural” attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium should be in this day and age.

One small caveat: over this 48-year period there have been four different ADs at The Citadel (Eddie Teague, Walt Nadzak, Les Robinson, and Larry Leckonby). It is possible (even probable) that they each had their own approach to reporting attendance. That is something to keep in mind when evaluating these trends over a long period of time.

It appears that good years for attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium are usually a result of the team being successful in that specific season, which is not big news. The fact that a “one-year lag” (a good season leading to improved attendance the following year) is not particularly evident in the numbers, however, does strike me as surprising. That may suggest something about the relationship between the number of season tickets sold versus the walk-up crowd; it’s hard to say.

One bad season does not in itself result in poor attendance, but two bad years in a row? The bandwagon begins to empty out in a hurry.

As stated earlier, there are many other factors that impact attendance, including weather, quality of opponent, time of game, modern restroom facilities, etc. I wrote three years ago that The Citadel needed to continue appealing to its alumni base while reaching out to “unaffiliated” fans in the Charleston area, and to make the experience of going to a game as family-friendly as possible. Those points are still valid today, although it’s easy to see that an effort in all those areas has been made.

I would like to see the Junior Bulldog Club become something more substantial than a “Coming Soon!” webpage, though.

Ultimately, the biggest attraction of the game, other than the game itself, is the Corps of Cadets. I trust that when it comes to making sure the Corps is at the forefront of an exciting gameday atmosphere, the administration has a plan of attack for this season.

This year’s home attendance will probably come down to how the team fares in its first four games, both at JHS and on the road. Charleston Southern (home), Georgia Southern (home), Appalachian State (road), North Carolina State (road) — that is a tough stretch, particularly the three games following the opener.

If The Citadel can complete the gauntlet with a record of at least 2-2, that should result in a better crowd showing for the September 29 home game versus Chattanooga. The difference between 1-3 and 2-2 (to say nothing of 3-1 or, dare we dream, 4-0) could be critical when it comes to packing the stands that day.

It won’t be easy. Then again, it never is.

Edited 8/1/13:

The Citadel averaged 13,574 fans per game at Johnson Hagood Stadium in 2012, the highest attendance figures since 2007. Not coincidentally, the Bulldogs had their first winning season since 2007. However, that average still wasn’t enough to crack the top 30 of season attendance averages at JHS (post-1964). 

To  increase the number of fans in attendance in 2013, the football team has to continue to win games. It’s that simple. The first two home games of the season will be critical in this respect.

In 2008, the Bulldogs went 4-8, and attendance declined by 11%. Let’s hope that scenario is not repeated.

Game Review, 2011: Jacksonville

The Citadel 31, Jacksonville 9.

I would have gladly taken a one-point victory (admittedly, that is almost always the case for me), so Saturday’s result was altogether a pleasant one, particularly if you don’t think about the first quarter too much (a stanza that Walt Nadzak referred to in the radio postgame show as “horrendous by any standard”.

First, some recaps from the press:

Jeff Hartsell’s article in The Post and Courier

Hartsell’s notes from the game

Florida Times-Union article (looks to just be the AP story)

The Citadel’s release

The Post and Courier‘s “photo gallery” of the game

That last link is worthwhile if only to check out The Citadel’s new football uniforms, which in my opinion are a vast improvement over those of recent years.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team break out another set of unis for the game next week against Furman, so we’ll just see how things develop on the uniform front as the season progresses.

Last night’s football uniforms were more along the lines of a “back to basics” look, with no school name on the front (thus avoiding the whole “Citadel” vs. “The Citadel” issue) and no player names on the back of the jerseys (which was a mild surprise). Also absent: ‘TV numbers’ on the shoulder pads.

The infamous ‘side panels’ championed by Nike have been ditched, thankfully.  The weird striping on the pants remains, but it isn’t nearly as hideous without the aforementioned side panels on the jerseys.  The front of the jersey includes small logos for the SoCon and Nike, as well as a “C” on a navy-bordered neckline, which looks respectable.

The most noticeable uniform change was the new helmet logo.  Having a new helmet logo almost every year is one of The Citadel’s oldest traditions, dating back to 1861, when cadets firing on the Star of the West had to stop their assault midway through the action in order to change to a new cap badge.

The 2011 logo is a block “C”, with “navy digital camo” styling.  This picture of Brandon McCladdie in the above-linked photo gallery is a good look at it.  I’m on record as liking the block C as a helmet logo, although I prefer it to be white, but I can get used to the camo.  The only problem is that the chinstraps tend to make it harder to see at times, but I’m not sure there is much that can be done about that.

All in all, I was pleased with the uniforms, and I’m a tough grader.  Good job.

Before I get to the game itself, I want to note that the corps of cadets seemed to be mostly, if not completely, present and accounted for on Saturday night.  I have been concerned at times over the last couple of years that a significant percentage of cadets were not in the stands.  I realize that there are a lot of “duty” cadets, but still. However, on Saturday the cadet section seemed to be appropriately filled.  The corps did make its presence felt at times, and in general the noise level was good. Improvement is possible and necessary, though it was only the first game, so I’ll give the corps a solid “B”.

First, a negative. From Jeff Hartsell’s “notes” column:

[Terrell] Dallas, a senior who led the Bulldogs with 665 rushing yards last year, injured a knee on The Citadel’s first play from scrimmage. Coach Kevin Higgins said it appeared that Dallas injured his medial collateral ligament, but that more tests will be conducted [Sunday].

Losing Dallas for an extended period of time would be a tough break for the Bulldogs (and for Dallas, obviously).  We’ll have to wait and see.

I’ll examine some of the statistical information from the JU contest and try to determine what it means going forward in my preview of the Furman game later in the week.  Just some quick observations:

— Cass Couey had a solid game punting.  His first punt, in particular, was outstanding.  In general, the special teams were very hit or miss.  The Bulldogs had one missed field goal and one very poor coverage job on a kickoff (where Ryan Sellers made up for his missed FG with a touchdown-saving tackle).  Then there was the fumbled punt inside the 5 (that JU converted into a TD) and a near-disaster on another muffed punt (and what a game-changer that could have been; on the next play, Ben Dupree scored on a 58-yard TD run).

The Citadel appeared to tip two of Jacksonville’s punts and was credited with a block on a third, although from my vantage point I wasn’t sure that Domonic Jones really blocked the punt as much as it was simply lined right at him (with a “wormburner” trajectory).

— This was arguably the first game since the debut of Triple O’Higgins in which the offensive execution was good enough that all the options were readily available, so to speak.  Of the five Bulldog fumbles (two lost), only one was on an exchange.  There weren’t so many negative plays this time around, so The Citadel wasn’t constantly in third-and-forever mode and could keep things “on schedule”.

As the game progressed, the Bulldogs were able to key off JU’s defenders, eventually adjusting to what the Dolphins were doing, so after Dupree had burned JU on two long scoring plays, he was then able to pitch out when Jacksonville moved to stop him.  The relative effectiveness of the offense also allowed for things like the end-around play to Kevin Hardy.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on offensive line play, but even from the stands some things are easy to figure out, like the fact that Mike Sellers has tremendous potential.  How often is a team’s center considered an offensive weapon?

— I won’t go into great length about the defense, but it was very good for the entire game, as the numbers indicate.  The defensive line as a group was excellent, with Derek Douglas the standout, but the ‘backers and backs were on their game as well. Jacksonville had no big pass plays, and its running game was completely shut down. The only real negative was the lack of forced turnovers (just one).

— The Bulldogs only committed two penalties, continuing a trend from last season.  At The Citadel, the law is respected.

Part of the lack of forced turnovers for the Bulldog D can be credited to JU quarterback Josh McGregor (21-33, 208 passing yards, no interceptions), who I thought was impressive in defeat.  His team suffered from a lack of size and (to a lesser extent) speed, and also from an absence of depth.  Scanning the sidelines, I noticed that Jacksonville had dressed no more than 55 players (and that may be a generous estimate).  If you want to know the difference between scholarship and non-scholarship football, that is it in a nutshell right there.

It’s not going to be easy for Kerwin Bell to get his team to rebound from its loss on Saturday night.  JU had put a lot of eggs into a “playoffs-or-bust” basket, and if those eggs aren’t already broken, most of them are cracked.  To even draw playoff consideration, the Dolphins will have to win their remaining ten games, including Sunday’s game at Western Illinois, a 2010 playoff participant.  9-2 with a Pioneer League title (which would also include an OOC victory over Charleston Southern) would not be good enough.  10-1, quite honestly, probably wouldn’t be good enough unless A) Western Illinois has a good season, and/or B)  The Citadel has a good season.

I certainly hope option B comes to pass.  Will The Citadel have a good season? We’re about to find out.  Over the next seven weeks, the Bulldogs will play six games, all against Southern Conference competition, three at home (including next Saturday) and three on the road.

I’ll conclude this post with some pictures I took at the game.  Traditional reminder:  I’m a bad photographer with a below-average camera.  If you want to see good pictures, be sure to check out that Post and Courier gallery.  I do try to take pictures of offensive and defensive formations, because some people are interested in that (especially the triple option stuff).  I also threw in a couple of special teams photos and a shot of something called “Cosmic Dogs”, which is a new vendor under the stands.  It is, naturally, out of focus.

On to Furman…

The Citadel: Status of the Football Program

Judging from some posts at TCISN over the last few weeks (and from some non-message board discussions I have heard), there is sentiment in some circles that it’s time to make a coaching change at The Citadel.  This is, in my opinion, definitely a minority viewpoint, but it’s out there.

It’s a position that reached its zenith in popularity following the offensive debacle against Georgia Southern, and I have to say it would be hard to blame anyone for having a knee-jerk reaction after sitting through that game.  It was embarrassing.  The improved performance against Elon last Saturday seems to have muted some of the “we need a new coach” talk, though.

That said, I seriously doubt there is going to be a coaching change after this season. Actually, I would be really, really surprised if Kevin Higgins weren’t retained.

Higgins is currently under contract through the 2013 football season.  In this economic climate, there aren’t many schools that are prepared to let a coach go with three years left on his deal, and The Citadel doesn’t have a history of doing that, anyway.  Just the opposite, in fact.  The Citadel has honored the full contracts of “lame-duck” coaches like Don Powers in football and Randy Nesbit in basketball, just to name two.

Another thing to consider is that after last season, his second straight losing campaign (and fourth in five years), Higgins decided to completely scrap his spread offense and move to the triple option.  That doesn’t strike me as the move of a man worried about job security, because he had to know when he made that decision that the 2010 season was probably going to be difficult.  Maybe he didn’t think it was going to be as difficult as it has turned out, perhaps, but he knew the potential pitfalls.

I don’t know, but I would guess that before deciding to employ a new offense Higgins had a chat with AD Larry Leckonby about the move, just to make sure his position was safe for at least a couple of years.  That also was likely the message Leckonby delivered to prospective assistant coaching candidates (Higgins brought in seven new assistants).

Tommy Laurendine, for example, was in a presumably “safe” job at his alma mater, Lenoir-Rhyne.  I doubt he would have taken the job at The Citadel if he thought there was a chance that it would only be for one year.  The same is true for Josh Conklin and Bob Bodine, among others.

Assuming Higgins is back for at least one more season, then, where does the program stand in relation to historical norms?  Is keeping a coach with his overall and league record a good idea, regardless of contract status?  What factors besides on-field performance need to be considered?

First, let’s look at some numbers (keep in mind that at the time of this post, The Citadel has yet to play its final game of the 2010 season, which is at Samford).

Kevin Higgins is 26-40 overall, 14-30 in the Southern Conference.  He has been the Bulldogs’ head coach for six full seasons.

Twenty-three men have served as head coach of The Citadel.  Eight of them coached prior to the school joining the Southern Conference.  Tatum Gressette is the transitional coach in this respect, with the last four years of his eight-year tenure marking the first four SoCon campaigns for The Citadel.

Counting Gressette, then, let’s take a look at how Higgins compares to those fifteen coaches who competed in the Southern Conference.

— Overall record:  Higgins ranks 10th out of 15 in winning percentage

— SoCon record:  Higgins ranks 8th out of 15 in winning percentage

There is more to this than just those placements, though.  Higgins may only be 10th alltime in overall winning percentage, but of the five coaches behind him, three of them were his immediate predecessors at The Citadel.  The other two, Quinn Decker and John McMillan, were the first two coaches at The Citadel following the program’s post-World War II restart.

As for the SoCon record, Higgins has a better conference winning percentage than Ellis Johnson and John Zernhelt (but not Don Powers, interestingly), and also has a better mark than Tom Moore, along with John Rowland, Gressette, Decker, and McMillan.

Starting with John Sauer, who only coached at The Citadel for two seasons, every coach who was at The Citadel between 1955 to 2000 has a better league record than Higgins, except Moore.  That includes Eddie Teague, who succeeded Sauer as head coach, and three men then-AD Teague later hired (Red Parker, Bobby Ross, and Art Baker).  Moore’s successor, Charlie Taaffe, also has a better SoCon record than Higgins.

Comparing Higgins’ SoCon record to the Gressette/Rowland/Decker/McMillan group is probably pointless, though.  For example, Gressette was 4-14 in league play over four seasons, but seven of his fourteen conference losses were to schools currently in the ACC or SEC.

Decker was 8-25-1 in conference action, which included playing either South Carolina or Clemson every season — as conference games.  (His 1950 squad was 2-3 in the league; one of the two wins came against the Gamecocks, at Johnson Hagood Stadium.)

That doesn’t even take into account the difficulties Decker (and later McMillan) had in trying to bring the program back up to the level it had been prior to the war.  It must have been hard, for the first nine seasons following the program’s return were losing campaigns.  Neither Decker nor McMillan ever had a winning season at The Citadel.

One thing to consider when evaluating a coach’s record at The Citadel would be, simply, how successful has the school been historically in football?  What should expectations be?

The Citadel has basically been a .500 program through most of its history.  At the time it joined the Southern Conference, the school’s overall football record was 115-112-24.  It had never had more than four consecutive winning seasons, or more than three straight losing campaigns.

The ten years leading up to league membership were fairly typical:  7-3, 3-6-1, 6-3-1, 4-5-1, 4-5-2, 5-4-1, 4-5, 3-5-1, 3-5-1, 4-3-1.  Even after joining the SoCon, the overall records (as opposed to conference play) continued in a similar vein.

As I mentioned, though, in the post-WWII era the football program at The Citadel struggled.  That included league play, despite the move of many of the SoCon’s bigger schools to a new confederation called the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Things finally changed with the arrival, not of a coach, but of a general.  Mark Clark wasn’t interested in losing.

After a bit of a false start with Sauer (probably best remembered at The Citadel for bringing in a young hotshot of an assistant named Al Davis), Clark’s hiring of Teague finally got the football program on a winning track.  In its nineteenth season of league play, The Citadel would finally finish with a winning record in conference action.  That was in 1957.

That’s right, it took nineteen seasons for The Citadel to have a winning league record after joining the Southern Conference.  Think about that.

Four years later, the school would win its first SoCon title.

Earlier I stated that The Citadel has “basically been a .500 program”, but of course the actual overall record is 454-518-32.  What I meant, though, is that for most of its history the school’s football program really puttered along at about a .500 clip, with two exceptions.

The first is that nine-year period following World War II.  The Citadel was 27-54-1 during that stretch.  The football program is 64 games under .500 alltime, and 27 of those 64 games can be accounted for in that near-decade of losing.

That’s arguably not the worst run in the history of the program, however (particularly if you account for the fact the program had been briefly dormant).  The longest stretch of consistent losing The Citadel has ever had has been a 13-year period where the cumulative record of the team is 50-93, 43 games under .500, with eleven losing campaigns and only one winning season in that timespan.  That includes an ugly 29-70 mark in SoCon play in those thirteen seasons.

Those thirteen years?  You guessed it.  They are the last thirteen years.  The current era is in the discussion for being the low point for the program, at least in terms of on-field competitiveness.

Was there one event, a specific turning point, that led to the football program’s slide?  I think so.  Some people might claim it to be the dismissal of Charlie Taaffe, but that wasn’t the tipping point.  No, the die was actually cast on November 23, 1999, two days before Thanksgiving that year.

Don Powers’ team had gone 2-9 that season (after a 5-6 campaign the year before). Powers was essentially a caretaker-type coach, a fill-in for Taaffe, but after four years it was clearly time for fresh blood.  Walt Nadzak made the decision to reassign Powers — and then was overruled by the school president, Major General John Grinalds.

I linked Jeff Hartsell’s article about this move above; here it is again.  It’s worth linking twice, because I think Grinalds’ decision, “honorable” as he thought it was, started the ball rolling downhill for the football program, and not in a good way.  Sure, it was just one year.  Sometimes, though, that one year matters.  This was one of those times.

Timing is everything in life, and that includes college athletics.  In 1999 Nadzak was faced with a football program with a deteriorating on-field performance and a decrepit stadium.  He also had to contend with issues over which he had little to no control, from the proliferation of college sports (especially football) on cable television to women at The Citadel.

Nadzak knew he needed a new stadium, and he also knew that with it he needed a competitive team.  He didn’t get either (although the stadium would come eventually). In a column written the following week, Ken Burger all but predicted that Grinalds’ move would signal the end of Nadzak’s tenure at The Citadel.  He was correct.

Asked if he expects the Bulldogs to have a better season next year, Grinalds said, “Yes, we do.'”

The team went 2-9 for a second straight season…

I would suspect (although I can’t say for sure) that the dead-in-the-water aspect to the program had an impact on fundraising, perhaps including the ability of the school to raise money for the new stadium.  Things went slowly, too slowly, as the world around the school kept moving faster and faster.

If you run in place, you don’t go anywhere.  The Citadel needed a decent team to continue to draw fans, particularly because the stadium was becoming more and more of a problem, whether it was archaeologists digging up gravesites underneath the stadium for reburial, or the fact that you couldn’t turn on the stadium lights and the french fry machines at the same time because it would short out the electrical system, or having so many bricks fall off the facade that eventually they were all removed for safety reasons.

Now the school finally has a quality stadium, and it’s a first-rate facility.  What it doesn’t have is a drawing card, a team good enough to bring in new fans (and revive interest from old fans).

Ellis Johnson tried to overcome the program’s malaise in part by featuring transfers and hideous uniforms, and it didn’t work.  After three seasons, he was ready to become an FBS defensive coordinator again.  John Zernhelt lasted one year, and then moved on, taking big money from the New York Jets. (Hard to blame him.)

In the ten years prior to Kevin Higgins taking over as coach, The Citadel had an overall record of 36-74.  That’s actually a worse record by percentage than the nine-year period following World War II I referenced earlier.  In addition, the school had not had a winning record in conference play since 1992, the year The Citadel won its second (and last) league title.

That’s a lot to overcome.  Higgins got off to a good start, but soon found that one year does not establish a trend, or even momentum.

Can he get over the hump?  Normally when a coach has his record after six seasons, he doesn’t get an opportunity to find out.  However, I think the evidence suggests that Higgins had a higher mountain to climb than most, and that patience may in fact be warranted.

There is an elephant in the room, however.  I’m talking about home attendance.

The Citadel now has a great facility, and (other than the on-field results) a very good atmosphere for home games, including the cadets, tailgating, etc…and attendance is declining at an alarming rate.

Average attendance at Johnson Hagood since 1997:

1997 — 12,173

1998 — 13,291

1999 — 14,543

2000 — 14,342

2001 — 15,687

2002 — 15,582

2003 — 16,759

2004 — 8,359 (the year of “half a stadium” and thus an aberration)

2005 — 11,674

2006 — 14,599

2007 — 13,757

2008 — 12,261

2009 — 13,029

2010 — 11,445

Ouch.  Ouch for the last seven years, really, but particularly for this season.

I wrote extensively about attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium in July of last year. That post includes my theory on how television impacts attendance at The Citadel’s home games, among other things.

The Citadel cannot afford to have its home attendance continue to erode.  It’s not the only school to have concerns in that area, as anyone who has watched ACC games can attest.   Ultimately, though, attendance at Johnson Hagood Stadium has to get better.

While baseball is the most successful sport at The Citadel, and basketball is the sport with the most potential for growth, football always has been and remains the bell cow for the department of athletics.  It drives the entire department, and also has a significant impact on the school as a whole.  Sagging attendance is a major problem, one that should concern everyone.

Even if The Citadel has a breakthrough year on the field next season, I would be surprised if there is a dramatic improvement in home attendance.  There is often a one-year lag between on-field/on-court success and attendance gains.

Because of that, if the team were to turn the corner, and the triple option to start cranking out games like, say, Navy’s offense did against East Carolina last week, I don’t expect attendance to make a big jump in 2011 (although the home schedule should help, as Furman, Wofford, and VMI are all expected on the JHS slate of games).  The 2012 season is when you would see dividends from a positive 2011 campaign.

Basically, I’m fine with Kevin Higgins getting another year.   I haven’t been completely happy with his tenure at The Citadel, even excepting the wins and losses; there have been issues from the unimportant (my continued frustration with the uniforms) to the all-important (the Rice/Starks episode, which was much, much worse than multiple 0-11 seasons would ever be).

He seems to be popular with the administration, which is good.  I thought it was interesting that the Alumni Association made him an “Honorary Life Member”; that news came after consecutive games in which his team didn’t score.  I did wonder if someone was trying to make a statement to certain unhappy alums, but I suppose it was just coincidental.

After next season, though, I think Larry Leckonby has to make a move if things don’t work out.  At that time Higgins will still have two years remaining on his contract, but if the team does poorly Leckonby won’t be able to afford keeping him.  He can’t make the mistake that was made over a decade ago.

That’s the bottom line, even at The Citadel.

Football, Game 4: The Citadel vs. Furman

Now that all the non-conference games have been played, it’s time for Southern Conference action to begin.  The Citadel will begin the SoCon slate by going on the road to face its traditional league opening game opponent…Furman.

Uh, Furman?  As the first conference game of the season?  In September?  When has that ever happened?

It’s happened once before.  In 1976, the Bulldogs and Paladins met on September 25 (same date as this year) in Greenville (same locale as this year) to play the league opener for both schools (same situation as this year).  The Citadel edged Furman that day, 17-16 (hey, that can be the same too, as far as I’m concerned).

The other 88 gridiron meetings between the Palmetto State schools took place in October or November.  Occasionally you will hear someone (often a Paladin supporter, but sometimes a Bulldog fan) gripe about how the game should be played at the end of the season, “like it used to be,” and blame somebody (The Citadel’s former AD, Walt Nadzak, usually plays the bogeyman) for the end of “the tradition” that was the season finale.

I want to delve into this a little, because the notion that Furman and The Citadel used to always play at the end of the season is wrong, and so is the idea that there is an implied tradition with regards to end-of-season meetings for either school.

The Citadel and Furman have met 89 times.  On 19 of those occasions, the game was the last game of the (regular) season for both schools.

The Citadel and Furman met in the season finale in 1965, 1966, and 1967, and then for sixteen straight years, from 1977 through 1992.

Prior to that 16-year stretch, though, the game was generally a midseason clash, much like Clemson-South Carolina was for many years (“Big Thursday”).  The opponent that has been Furman’s season-ending opponent most often is actually Clemson, and the Paladins also have had numerous seasons end with games against Wofford and UT-Chattanooga (which replaced The Citadel in the last-game rotation for a decade).  Furman has finished campaigns with opponents as diverse as Georgia and Maryville; as recently as the 1970s, the Paladins ended seasons against Louisville and Wake Forest.

Tangent #1:  While researching Furman’s football history, I enjoyed looking through the school’s excellent media guide, which includes some cool photos.  My personal favorite is the picture of the 1927 squad, known as the “30-Mule Team”, which went 10-1 and appears to have been sponsored by Target.

The Citadel has finished its season with Furman more than any other school, but has ended its season with South Carolina almost as many times (17), and has concluded numerous campaigns with Davidson, Wofford, and VMI.  The full list of final opponents for the Bulldogs is long and includes both Florida State (during the Lee Corso era) and Florida (during the Tim Tebow era), along with Clemson, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, Sewanee, and the Parris Island Marines, just to name a few.

Tangent #2:  The Citadel actually has finished with Furman in twenty different seasons. In 1942 the two schools played on November 2.  That would wind up being the last game of the year for The Citadel in a shortened season, as every available upperclassman was called up to serve in World War II.  The Paladins played two more games that year.  Furman also had its fair share of students who went to serve their country; neither school would field a football team again until 1946.

The argument over whether the two schools should meet at the end of the season can be looked at in two ways:  1) How important is it to play a “rival” at the end of the season, and 2) how much tradition does The Citadel-Furman have as a year-end rivalry game?  My answers would be 1) it’s of limited importance, and 2) not a whole lot.

There are great end-of-season rivalries, of course — Army-Navy, Michigan-Ohio State, Harvard-Yale.  However, there are also great midseason rivalries, like Oklahoma-Texas, or Alabama-Tennessee.  Then you have Southern Cal-Notre Dame, which is a midseason game in South Bend but is played near the end of the year in Los Angeles.

What those end-of-season games have in common, for the most part, is that they have been the final game for each school for decades.  That’s not something that can be said for The Citadel-Furman, a game that has been played more often in October (51 times) than in November (37).

Part of this, of course, is how each individual fan views the series.  For me, I have always thought of it as a midseason contest.  When the game is played in Greenville, I picture a mid-October fall day with the leaves just beginning to change color.  When it’s in Charleston, I think of gorgeous October afternoons, crisp and clear as the late-summer low country heat finally dissipates.

Okay, so maybe the weather isn’t always so nice.  Just work with me…

I also think it’s not a bad thing that it is played at a different time of year than Clemson-South Carolina.  I always felt the matchup was given short shrift from the state’s media entities when it was played on the same day.  Having it at midseason gives it a time and place of its own in the state, and some additional publicity.

I can understand why some Furman fans want the game to be the season finale. Back in that stretch during the 1980s when it was the final game of the year, Furman was at its zenith as a football program.  Alums remember those days fondly and want to revisit them in every way possible.  Homecomings on the Greenville campus usually feature men wearing Members Only jackets and women with shoulder pads bigger than those of the football players, many of them gyrating to the sound of their favorite band, Winger.  Big hair is everywhere.

The scene is very different at The Citadel, of course, as it is renowned as a forward-thinking institution, and its alums have led the way into the 21st century.

Since this is a blog that tends to focus on The Citadel, I’ll now return to the 21st century.  Let’s take a brief look at the game to be played on Saturday…

Adam Mims is good.  He already holds the Furman career record for receptions (157), and he added to that mark in a major way against a very good South Carolina defense on Saturday.  Mims had 10 catches for 202 (!) yards, which included a 72-yard TD reception.  Just for fun, he also had two rushes for 26 yards.  In his previous two games against the Bulldogs, Mims has totaled 15 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

Furman was trailing 31-19 with less than six minutes to play against the Gamecocks, but had the momentum and was driving for another score before an ill-fated pass resulted in a pick-six that iced the game.  It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if the Paladins had scored to get within a touchdown.  I would not have bet against a 3-and-out for the Gamecock offense, and Furman then having the chance to drive down the field for a game-winning TD.

That it didn’t happen doesn’t take away from Furman’s solid performance.  The Paladins scored as many points against South Carolina as the Gamecocks’ first two opponents combined, and those opponents were Southern Mississippi and Georgia.

The bad news for the Paladins is that its two-quarterback rotation was reduced to one, as Chris Forcier (the “running” QB) suffered an injury against the Gamecocks and is out for the season.  That leaves the reigns entirely to Cody Worley, the “passing” quarterback.

This will be a blow for Furman (Forcier was averaging over 15 yards per rush, including an 85-yard TD against Colgate), but Worley seems more than capable of shouldering the load.  I’m not sure how much more of a passer Worley really is as compared to Forcier, and at any rate I would expect him to do his fair share of running too.

Furman rushed for 377 yards against Colgate, which is probably a better approximation of what to expect from the Paladins’ running attack than its numbers versus the Gamecocks.  Tersoo Uhaa rushed for 126 yards on 16 carries.  With that kind of success on the ground, the Paladins only attempted 18 passes, completing eleven — interestingly, to seven different receivers.

Furman had two tight ends each catch one pass in that game, which is about four catches less than that position seems to historically have against The Citadel on a per-game basis.  Speaking of history, starting tight end Colin Anderson is a direct descendant of the man who commanded Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War.

On defense, Furman appears improved from last season, although obviously it’s hard to tell after just two games, with one of those against an FBS opponent.  The Paladins may be susceptible to the pass, but that isn’t likely to be a problem for them against the Bulldogs.  However, I do expect The Citadel to go to the air a few more times than would normally be the case.

The key man in the defensive unit is safety Max Lerner, who spends most of his time somewhere other than where the opposition wants him to be.  He’s a very good player.  How Furman chooses to employ him against The Citadel’s triple option attack will be something to watch on Saturday.

Furman has dangerous return men.  Mims handles the punt return duties, and the kickoff returners include Mike Brown, who had a 76-yard kickoff return for a TD against The Citadel in that nutty 2007 game.

Saturday’s game is going to be a “white out” for Paladin fans.  I’ve always been a little leery about the effectiveness of these types of things (with occasional exceptions).  I think it’s because I remember the time a few years ago when South Carolina had a “black out” for a night game against Florida.  The Gator QB was Rex Grossman.  After the game, an easy Florida win, someone asked Grossman about it, and he said something like “you couldn’t see any of the fans, it was like nobody was there.”

The Citadel is going to have a “red out” for Homecoming.  I’m on record (from my preview of the Presbyterian game) as being a touch dubious about that one too, especially given the opponent, but it’s all in the name of merchandising.

I don’t pretend to be an insider when it comes to The Citadel, so I certainly won’t try to suggest I know the inner workings in Paladin Land, but I have to wonder how big a year this is for Bobby Lamb.  Furman fans are getting antsy about a playoff drought, and about being an also-ran for the SoCon crown in recent years.  Losing three of four to The Citadel would not help the cause.

For The Citadel to emerge victorious in this game, it must win the battle of clichés.  By that I mean it has to win the turnover battle and control the clock and field position. The time of possession is something that I think the Bulldogs can have some success in managing, but only if the defense can prevent the Paladins from those long, 70+-yard drives that Furman has specialized in over the years.  You’ve seen the script:  the throw down the middle to an open tight end…the delayed handoff on 2nd and 7 that goes for nine yards…the quarterback keeper for six yards…etc.

The Bulldogs also need to avoid penalties.  The Citadel committed only two infractions against Arizona, but regressed against Presbyterian.  Penalties on offense are particularly costly in the triple option, as they throw the team “off schedule”.

I don’t think The Citadel’s squad has many advantages in this game.  One possible advantage is that the pressure should be on Furman, which has greater expectations this season and which excited its fan base with its excellent effort against South Carolina.  With that considered, a good start for the Bulldogs would be particularly welcome.

Regardless of how you feel about what time of year these two schools should play their annual football game, I think everyone agrees that September 25 is too early.  For that, we can all join together to blame the SoCon league office.  However, I’m sure all the fans and players will be ready to go at 2 pm this Saturday anyway.

Review: Presbyterian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and ends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Ah yes, the uniforms…

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

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

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

— 

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

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

On to Furman.