Citadel coach focused on bringing Bulldogs down to earth after big win, national ranking
Curfews are a way of life at The Citadel, and Bulldogs football coach Kevin Higgins has followed suit with a deadline for celebrating victories.
“The 24-hour rule is in effect,” Higgins said at his weekly news conference Monday.
That means the Bulldogs were just 24-hour party people after Saturday night's 23-21 victory over then No. 3- ranked Georgia Southern. By the time of the team's weekly steak dinner Sunday night, Higgins wanted his players to move on from celebration to preparation for this week's game at No. 7 Appalachian State.
“We told our guys, you are going to be cordial to reporters and faculty and people like that,” Higgins said. “But we have to make sure that underneath all of that, we know the task at hand and that all of our energy is dedicated to our next opponent.”
That might be easier said than done, as The Citadel's upset of Georgia Southern has brought some buzz to the military school's campus. The 2-0 Bulldogs are ranked this week for the first time since 2008, breaking into the FCS Coaches' Poll at No. 23 and The Sports Network media poll at No. 21.
And for the second time in the season's first two weeks, the Bulldogs have a Southern Conference player of the week. Senior kicker Thomas Warren, who booted three field goals against GSU, including the game-winning 37-yarder with 35 seconds left, is the SoCon special teams player of the week.
The atmosphere on campus “is a lot better this week,” Warren said.
Junior cornerback Brandon McCladdie, one of the team captains, said a couple of fellow cadets told him, “We can win the SoCon championship.”
Said McCladdie, “I told them, it's still a long journey. It was just one game.”
Higgins, who keeps meticulous notes from season to season, said he felt the Bulldogs got too worked up over last year's season-opening, 31-9 win over Jacksonville and fell a bit flat the next week in a 16-6 loss at Furman.
He didn't want that to happen this season. Hence, a new “24-hour rule” was in place after wins over Charleston Southern and Georgia Southern to start the season.
“On my notes from last year, I told myself, 'You have to do a better job next year of getting the kids back after the first game or after a win,' ” Higgins said. “After we beat Jacksonville last year, it was like we won the Super Bowl.
“We have to be excited and celebrate, because that's why we do what we do. But at the same time, we have to get grounded again. I don't think we did that last year against Furman.”
Higgins sent the same message to his players last year, but putting a number on it helps drive that message home.
“We've never had anything definitive like that, just generalities,” he said. “The more specific you can be with 21-year-olds, the better off you will be.”
The prospect of playing at App State, where the Bulldogs have not won since 1992, should sharpen focus. The Mountaineers are 1-1 after an opening loss to East Carolina and a 35-27 win over FCS power Montana last week. Quarterback Jamal Jackson has thrown for 560 yards and two touchdowns in two games, hitting 64 percent of his passes with one interception.
“It's a typical App State team,” Higgins said. “And our guys understand there is a long way to go, and the magnitude of our next opponent.”
Warren, from Bishop England High School, also made kicks of 42 and 39 yards against GSU, and is 3 of 4 for the season.
Offseason attention to the passing game is paying off. After two games, The Citadel ranks second in the SoCon in passing efficiency (8-16, 133 yards, 1 TD, no interceptions) behind only Wofford. Starting QB Ben Dupree is 1 of 4 for 26 yards and a TD, and backup Aaron Miller is 7 of 11 for 107 yards.
Rickey Anderson is tied for the SoCon lead in scoring (24 points), and punter Cass Couey leads the league with an average of 47.2 yards per kick.