Who: The Citadel (0-2) at Western Carolina (0-2)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Cullowhee, N.C.
With a backfield and line stuffed full of seniors, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The Citadel spent much of spring football practice and fall camp diversifying its offensive portfolio, adding I-formation and shotgun looks to its core triple-option offense.
But after watching the 0-2 Bulldogs muster one field goal on offense in last week’s 21-10 loss to Wofford, Citadel coach Kevin Higgins says it’s time to go back to basics.
“It’s apparent that our execution is not where it needs to be,” Higgins said Monday. “We’re going to simplify as much as we can, maybe get back to the basics more like we did last year.”
Last season, the Bulldogs went 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the Southern Conference while averaging 29.8 points and 300.6 rushing yards per game, ranking third in the league in both categories. Through two games this season, the 0-2 Bulldogs are averaging 19.5 points (sixth in the SoCon) and 223.5 rushing yards (fourth).
“We want to make sure we are majoring in a couple of things, and do those things real well to give us a chance to be successful,” said Higgins, whose team plays at Western Carolina (0-2) on Saturday.
The most obvious symptom of what ails the Bulldogs is reflected in the statistics of All-SoCon fullback Darien Robinson, who gained 1,007 yards and averaged 7.2 yards per carry and 91.5 yards per game last season.
This year, the 6-0, 225-pound senior has just 15 carries through two games, averaging 5.8 yards per carry and 43.5 yards per game.
Opposing defenses are taking away the first option in the triple option — the give to the fullback — and daring the Bulldogs to beat them with the second and third options, the pitch to a slotback or a quarterback keeper.
So far, they haven’t been able to do it.
“There’s a couple of things we can do,” Higgins said. “We can pitch it to Darien on the outside, but that’s not what really what he does best. We’re looking for a couple of wrinkles to get the ball in his hands.”
An extra dose of speed on the option pitch might help loosen things up, and that’s why freshman slotback Devan Robbins may be more involved in the offense this week. Robbins, 5-11 and 170 pounds, returned a kickoff 40 yards on his first college touch against Wofford. A sweep play designed for Robbins was foiled by a penalty.
“He’s still learning the slotback position, and there’s so much to learn there from a scheme standpoint,” Higgins said of Robbins, who has been timed in 4.35 seconds for the 40-yard dash. “We tried to get him a couple of touches last week, but it didn’t work out. But we’re going to get him more involved. When we get the ball on the perimeter, sometimes you are looking for more speed there, and maybe Devan can help us.”
Blocking also has been an issue, with sophomore Sam Frye and freshman Ryan Bednar filling the spot of departed All-America center Mike Sellers. On the perimeter, two of the top four receivers and the starting tight end are all freshmen.
“The spark comes when all 11 guys on the field are doing their assignments,” said senior receiver Matt Thompson, who caught four passes for 40 yards against Wofford.
“Sometimes when we don’t have that spark, maybe nine or 10 guys are executing and one or two are not. That spark comes when we are all doing our individual jobs.”
Western Carolina is 0-2 after losses to two FBS teams, Middle Tennessee State (45-24) and Virginia Tech (45-3). The Catamounts have lost 12 straight games and 28 in a row to Division I teams. Their last win over a Division I team was 14-10 over The Citadel in 2009.
WCU quarterback Troy Mitchell, who ran for 117 yards and two TDs in a 45-31 loss to The Citadel last year, did not play in the loss at Virginia Tech. He suffered a concussion in the opener against MTSU, but is expected to play this week.