To slow Elon, Citadel Bulldogs must slow wide receiver Aaron Mellette
He’s not hard to find. Aaron Mellette wears No. 3, and at 6-4 and 220 pounds stands out on a football field, or just about anywhere else.
Who: Elon (3-5, 1-4) at The Citadel (4-4, 3-3)
When: 2 p.m.
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
And if you shout out “Hey, Merle!,” odds are he’s the only one who will turn around.
But locating Elon’s All- America receiver is just the first step in trying to slow him down, as The Citadel’s secondary will discover in today’s 2 p.m. homecoming game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Mellette, a senior from Sanford, N.C., who didn’t play organized football until his sophomore year in high school, is the top NFL prospect in the Southern Conference and by far the most productive receiver in the league.
This season, he’s got 69 catches for 1,008 yards and 15 touchdowns for Elon, which despite its 3-5 record (1-4 in the SoCon) has the top passing offense in the league.
“An incredible wide receiver,” Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said. “Everybody remembers Terrell Hudgins, the great receiver Elon had a few years ago. This guy is much better, because he’s faster. He’s a legit 6-4 and runs extremely well. And they love to get the football to him.”
Elon quarterback Thomas Wilson is the top-rated passer in the league, hitting 64.6 percent of his throws for 284.5 yards per game, with 20 touchdowns against eight interceptions. That’s a big improvement over his ratio of 23 TDs to 21 interceptions last season.
The Citadel’s pass defense ranks No. 1 in the SoCon, allowing 141.5 yards per game and just five touchdown passes on the season, second-fewest in the league. But a likely reason for that is the fact that the Bulldogs’ rush defense ranks eighth in the nine-team league, giving up 263.1 yards per game. Opposing teams have attempted only 159 passes in eight games against The Citadel, fewest in the league.
The Bulldogs have mixed results against other passing teams. Appalachian State and Samford are just behind Elon in SoCon passing stats.
The Bulldogs held App State quarterback Jamal Jackson to just 164 yards and no touchdowns in a 52-28 win on Sept. 15. But Samford’s Andy Summerlin riddled The Citadel for 320 yards and a TD in a 38-7 loss on Oct. 6.
Citadel cornerback Keith Gamble said the Bulldogs’ secondary is up for this challenge.
“Facing a guy like Mellette, you have to respect somebody of that build, of that speed and talent,” Gamble said.
“But we’re not going to be afraid to play against him. We’re going to prepare for them just like we prepare for everybody else, and do what we do.”
Higgins said there is a danger in focusing solely on Mellette, whose full name is Merle Aaron. Speedy sophomore Kierre Brown ranks ninth in the SoCon with 29 catches, and top rusher Karl Bostick is a transfer from FBS school Akron.
“They move Mellette around a lot, and they will check at the line of scrimmage,” Higgins said.
“If Mellette is on one side and you put a corner on him and a safety over the top, they will go to the three receivers on the other side, who will pretty much be single-covered. At some point, you can’t keep doubling him because the other guys will open up and they will make big plays.”
On the other side of the ball, The Citadel’s triple-option may have some opportunities against a gambling Elon defense, which ranks seventh in the league against the run, allowing 218.9 yards per game. The Phoenix held their own against No. 1-ranked Georgia Southern in a 26-23 loss on Sept. 22, giving up 342 rushing yards but just two TDs. But in a 49-24 loss to Wofford on Sept. 29, Terriers fullback Eric Breitenstein set a SoCon record with 321 yards, and Wofford totaled 500 on the ground.
“We’re going to have to score some points against these guys to win,” Higgins said. “Defensively, they do a lot of things, they are all over the place. So there will be opportunities for big plays. But they are going to hit you in the teeth a couple of times, because they are very, very aggressive and will change up defenses quite a bit.”
In its second season under coach Jason Swepson, the Phoenix can secure a winning season by winning out against The Citadel, Samford and Chattanooga. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, can make a case for an FCS playoff bid if it wins out over Elon, VMI and Furman to finish at 7-4 overall and 5-3 in the SoCon with wins over top 10 teams Georgia Southern and App State.
The Citadel will honor the 1992 Southern Conference championship team at today’s game. Quarterback Jack Douglas, safety Lester Smith and cornerback Torrance Forney, three of the four captains of that team, will serve as honorary captains and participate in the coin toss. In all, 16 players from that team, which went 11-2 and was ranked No. 1 in the country, will be on hand.
Other players in attendance will be Judson Boehmer (DE), Detric Cummings (DB), Marty Fagan (TE), Greg Farley (LB), Michael Flintom (RB), Ty Holland (LB), Kendall McKnight (LB), David Morelli (OL), Greg Perry (TE), Scott Reagan (OL), Rob Reaves (DB), Everette Sands (FB) and Mike Wideman (LB). Jeff Bleamer, an assistant coach on that team, and trainer James Day also will be honored.