Citadel readies for never young Wofford football team
After 13 straight defeats, losing to Wofford is getting old for The Citadel.
Who: The Citadel (4-3,3-2) at Wofford (6-1, 4-1)
When: 1:30 p.m.
Where: Gibbs Stadium, Spartanburg
One reason for the Bulldogs’ futility — the Terriers never seem to get young.
“The amazing thing about Wofford is it seems like they are never young,” Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins said of the only Southern Conference team he has not beaten in his eight years with the Bulldogs.
“They do a great job of playing a lot of guys, so that every year they have some experience coming back,” Higgins said. “It seems like they never start all over again, because they play so many guys.”
Wofford, ranked No. 8 in FCS, is once again in the hunt for a SoCon title at 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the league. Since 2002, the Terriers have finished below third in the SoCon only twice, winning or sharing league titles in 2003, 2007 and 2010.
One reason for Wofford’s consistency, Terriers coach Mike Ayers said, is its ability to redshirt players and then mix them in early when they are ready.
On this year’s squad, 28 players on Wofford’s two-deep roster sat out their freshman years as redshirts. Three more — including all-SoCon fullback Eric Breitenstein and standout linebacker Mike Niam — took medical redshirts during their careers.
Ten of the 11 offensive linemen on Wofford’s two-deep for today’s game against The Citadel (4-3, 3-2) took redshirt seasons. The starting lineup includes eight fifth-year seniors.
“Hopefully, we have a blend of making the right choices early, in recruiting and the guys who need to redshirt,” said Ayers, in his 25th season at Wofford. “And then you have to be stubborn enough to keep them in a redshirt and bring them along.”
The ability to redshirt quarterbacks such as Brian Kass (a junior) and Michael Weimer (a redshirt freshman) also helps Terriers offensive coordinator Wade Lang as he constantly adds on to Wofford’s option attack. Citadel QBs Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller, by way of contrast, both played as freshmen and had to learn on the fly.
“Wofford keeps expanding its offensive packages, and that’s really impressive,” Higgins said. “Last week against App State, they ran a jet sweep they really haven’t run in the past. They are able to do that, and yet still go under center and run those packages and go to the shotgun and run those plays. They are able to add on and still execute at a high level.”
And yet the Bulldogs enter today’s game with some hope that they can defeat Wofford for the first time since 1998, a victory The Citadel must have to keep alive its shot at a share of the SoCon title.
For one thing, The Citadel already has knocked off two FCS top 10 teams this season, beating Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. And one of the Bulldogs’ better defensive games of the season came against GSU and its option attack, similar to Wofford’s.
The Bulldogs also might be catching Wofford at a good time. The Terriers’ expended a lot of emotion and energy in last week’s 38-28 win at App State, and also got banged up. Running back Donovan Johnson and linebackers Phillip LeGrande and Kevin Thomas, all contributors, will miss today’s game.
The Citadel also has been hurt by injury, with linebackers Carl Robinson, Rah Muhammad and Yemi Oyegunle out for the season.
But the key for The Citadel will be turnovers and big plays on special teams. In their four wins this season, the Bulldogs are plus-4 in turnover margin, with two blocked kicks.
In three losses, they are –2 in turnovers with one block. Higgins pointed to Florida’s 44-11 win over turnover-plagued South Carolina last week as a model.
“For us to win this game,” he said, “we are going to have to come up with some big plays.