Road gets tougher for Dogs
When Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said Saturday that the race for the Southern Conference football championship is "wide open," he wasn't kidding.
After surprising road victories by Elon (at Wofford) and Georgia Southern (at two-time defending national champion Appalachian State), seven SoCon teams are separated by just one loss in the standings. Wofford, Elon and The Citadel — ranked No. 25 in The Sports Network poll this week — are tied for first with 3-1 league marks, with Georgia Southern and Chattanooga at 2-2, and App State and Furman at 1-2.
The middle of a championship race is an unusual spot for the Bulldogs, who haven't been in this position since 2003, when they won four of their first five SoCon games only to lose the last three and finish tied for fourth. Of course, The Citadel has not won a SoCon title since 1992.
"Everyone is real excited about being in the race," said senior kicker Mike Adams. "It's been a long time."
But the road gets more difficult from here for the Bulldogs, who are at 5-2 Georgia Southern this week. The three SoCon teams The Citadel has beaten thus far — Chattanooga, Furman and Western Carolina — are a combined 6-16 this season. The three SoCon teams left on the schedule — Georgia Southern, App State and Elon — are a combined 15-6.
All three are ranked in the top 16 of this week's Sports Network poll.
"I have watched a lot of film here in the last 24 hours," Higgins said Monday at his weekly news conference. "I know what Georgia Southern is like with Jayson Foster at quarterback. And then we have App State, where (quarterback) Armanti Edwards, coming off an injury, had over 200 yards rushing against Georgia Southern. And then we have Elon, which has a freshman quarterback (Scott Riddle) who is incredible. He was 41 of 51 against Wofford, and I didn't think anybody could do that against Wofford.
"It means that this is a heck of a league. A lot of people are getting better, and the guys who are maybe not that good are really close to getting good."
Higgins, who won four Patriot League titles in seven years at Lehigh, said the key to negotiating the homestretch lies with two groups — The Citadel's oldest players and its youngest.
"In my experience, being around teams that had a chance to win with three or four games left, it comes down to a couple of things," Higgins said. "The seniors have to step up and play the games of their lives. That has to happen. I had our 12 seniors stand up Sunday night, and I said, 'Each one of these guys, if we're going to get it done here, is going to have to play better than they've ever played before.' "
Secondly, Higgins said, the freshmen and redshirt freshmen who have earned playing time must begin to play like veterans.
"We have a lot of freshmen and redshirt freshmen who are playing," he said. "Those guys have to stop playing like freshmen. They can't make those freshmen mistakes anymore. It's the eighth game of the season, and they have to start playing like veterans."
The youngest unit on the team is the secondary, where freshman safety Mel Capers has started the last two games alongside sophomore cornerbacks Ryan Jones and Tillman Millhouse. Other key contributors include freshman running back Cody Wilson, redshirt freshman linebacker Reggie Rice and freshman lineman Cory Pope.
Said Higgins, "Our seniors have to step up, the young guys have to play with maturity, and the rest of us just have to focus and remove all of the other things from our lives except academics and football. If we can do all those things, we'll have a chance in these games. If we don't, we'll be like a lot of other teams."
--Citadel kicker Mike Adams was named SoCon special teams player of the week after making three field goals in last week's 37-31 win at Western Carolina, including a career-best 49-yarder ... QB Duran Lawson tied the school record for career touchdown passes with 35, matching Robert Hill's mark from 1981-84 ... Citadel players of the week vs. Western Carolina were WR Andre Roberts, free safety Josh Lawson and Adams. Scout team players were Travis Ruff, Sherrod Croom and Christian Robertson.
--With The Citadel at No. 25 in The Sports Network poll, there are five SoCon teams in the Top 25. The others are No. 10 App State, No. 11 Wofford, No. 16 Elon and No. 22 Georgia Southern. Only the Colonial (six) has more ranked teams than the SoCon's five this week ... In the FCS coaches' poll, the Bulldogs are tied for 26th, just outside the Top 25 behind No. 10 App State, No. 11 Wofford, No. 17 Elon and No. 22 Georgia Southern.