Smith's injury depletes The Citadel's secondary
In an effort to stop the run, Citadel coaches put their cornerbacks "on an island" in Saturday's 54-51 win over Furman. One result was a record-setting day for Paladins receiver Patrick Sprague.
But after redshirt sophomore cornerback Shaquill Smith suffered a season-ending injury against Furman, the Bulldogs have one less corner to put on that island this week against struggling Western Carolina. Smith, who started three of the first six games, tore an Achilles' tendon against Furman.
Smith's injury leaves redshirt sophomore Tillman Millhouse and sophomore Ryan Jones as the starters, with redshirt freshman Biron Nabritt elevated to the third cornerback in the rotation. Tyler Starnes, a walk-on freshman, is now the fourth corner.
"Shaquill is one of the three corners that had been in our rotation," Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said at his weekly news conference Monday. "So that hurts us from a depth standpoint. We have a lot of depth issues at a lot of positions, so we're praying every night that we can keep guys healthy. If we can, I think we have a chance.
"So now, Biron Nabritt will have to grow up in a hurry, and Tyler will have an opportunity to play as well. If they don't work out, then you take one of your safeties and move him to corner, because that's all you have."
Nabritt, a 6-0, 175-pounder from Ocala, Fla., has played in four games this season and has one pass break-up to his credit. Starnes, 5-7 and 160 pounds, walked on this fall from Dorman High in Spartanburg.
Against Furman's option attack, featuring 246-pound fullback Jerome Felton, the Bulldogs moved free safety Josh Lawson closer to the line of scrimmage and played freshman safety Mel Capers in place of redshirt freshman linebacker Reggie Rice. Furman rushed for 162 yards, a little above its average of 148.6 yards coming in.
But quarterback Renaldo Gray, who had thrown for 29 yards the previous week against Coastal Carolina, passed for 289 yards and three touchdowns, all of them to Sprague, who caught nine balls for a school-record 238 yards. Sprague caught three straight TDs of 17, 14 and 61 yards as Furman took a 27-7 lead in the first half.
"That was a game where we put our guys on an island, because we felt we had to do that to stop the run," Higgins said. "It was a tough challenge for our corners to be put in that position, when you are not getting pressure on the opposing team. We got to where we are because we've been able to do that, to put pressure on the quarterback and put our guys on an island and survive."
The Citadel had 10 sacks in the first five games, but did not sack Gray once and was credited with seven quarterback hurries against the 6-0, 227-pound senior, who also ran for 76 yards and a TD.
Said strong safety Dwight House: "We knew the corners would be on an island, but we knew we had to stop the run to give ourselves a fighting chance. We gambled in that aspect, and it hurt us in a lot of ways because we did not get pressure on the quarterback. We adjusted later in the game. (Defensive coordinator Isaac) Collins asked me to drop out and help the corners a little bit, and it altered their game plan some."
In 1-6 Western Carolina, the Bulldogs face a team that is next-to-last in the SoCon in rushing but third in passing offense with 253 yards per game. Quarterback Adam Hearns, a 6-1, 210-pound sophomore, has started the last two games, hitting 38 of 81 passes for 575 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Chattanooga sacked him seven times in a 39-21 win over Western last week.
"We have some holes in different areas," Higgins said. "And sometimes those get magnified by the team you are playing. And sometimes, you walk away and say, 'Whew! We got through another one.' "
--Citadel quarterback Duran Lawson was named the Southern Conference offensive player of the week after setting a school record with 486 yards of total offense against Furman. Lawson connected on 28 of 37 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 19 times for 100 yards and another score ... Citadel players of the week were Lawson, defensive tackle Kevin McCaskill and kicker Mike Adams. Scout team players were Christian Robertson, Sherrod Croom and Anthony Maldonado.
--Higgins reviewed some of the controversial calls in Saturday's game. According to game film, running back Cody Wilson was down before Furman linebacker Clifton Dortch took the ball away from him and returned the "fumble" 87 yards to The Citadel 1, setting up the TD that gave Furman a 34-24 lead. Higgins also said the film showed Dortch scored on the play, though the officials ruled that Citadel QB Duran Lawson pushed him out at the 1. The game film also showed that Furman's Gray threw a backwards pass on the following series, a play that was ruled an incomplete pass instead of a fumble. The ball should have been marked at about the Citadel 12 instead of the 6. Gray scored on a 6-yard run on the next play.