Spent some time crunching some numbers for Citadel football, looking at the Bulldogs’ SoCon-only stats from this season and from 2012 for any clues to their 2-5 start.
I like league-only stats, because they give a truer picture without the distortion of games against Clemson or Webber International, to use two examples from the past.
Here’s where I found the biggest drop-offs, almost all on offense:
Scoring offense: Last year in eight league games, the Bulldogs averaged 29.8 points, ranking third in the SoCon. This year, The Citadel’s at 21.4 ppg, ranking fifth. That’s down 8.4 points per game.
Total offense: Down from 375 yards per game last year (fourth in the SoCon) to 318 yards this season (ninth), a difference of 67 yards per game.
Rushing offense: 297 yards per game last year (third); 224 yards per game this year (third), down 73 yards per game.
Another steep drop comes in red-zone offense. Last year, The Citadel scored on 21 of 23 trips inside the 20-yard line, a robust 91.3 percent good for No. 2 in the league. Also, 17 of those 21 scores were touchdowns. But this season, the red-zone number is down to 10 scores on 18 trips in league games (55.6 percent, good for ninth place). And only 7 of those 10 scores are touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the passing offense is up slightly (93.4 ypg) this year over last season (88 ypg).
What can we surmise? Without All-American center Mike Sellers, the triple-option run game has taken a big hit (departed slotback Rickey Anderson is missed, too). Meanwhile, teams have learned they can stack the box and play the Bulldogs’ receivers man-to-man without fear of reprisal. Citadel coach Kevin Higgins has stuck with “running” QB Ben Dupree as his starter, with pass/run threat Aaron Miller as the backup. Sometimes, though, Miller doesn’t get into the game (Georgia Southern) until the Bulldogs are in must-pass mode, and that doesn’t work, either.
Another startling stat is third-down conversion. The Bulldogs converted 41.6 percent of third-down chances last year, ranking fourth in the league. That’s down to 33.8 percent this year, eighth in the SoCon. I don’t have hard numbers, but the Bulldogs have faced many more third-and-long situations this year than in 2012, IMO. That goes back to the trouble running the ball on first and second down, and then having to pass on obvious third downs.
Harder to explain is The Citadel’s struggles on opponents’ third downs. Foes are converting an astonishing 51.4 percent of third downs this year, the highest rate in the league. Only Citadel and Western Carolina (51 percent) are above even 40 percent in third-down defense in league play. Last year, the Bulldogs’ defense held foes to 39.4 percent on third down, ranking fifth in the league.
This is more puzzling, because the rest of the Bulldogs’ defensive stats are pretty much in line with last year’s. The only thing I can think of is a vulnerability to big plays: Voice of the Bulldogs Danny Reed points out that The Citadel has given up at least one play of 40-plus yards in every game. GSU had gains of 37, 45, 53 and 63 yards; Furman went for 30-plus twice, as did App State; and Wofford had six plays of 20 or more yards. The Bulldogs also aren’t getting as much pressure on the passer; they had 2.5 sacks per game last year, just 1.2 this season.
Of course, if I knew what to do about all this, I’d be making that big FCS coach money.