Who: Wofford (0-1) at The Citadel (0-1)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
Radio: 1450-AM. TV: ESPN3
The plan all along was for Citadel quarterback Ben Dupree to return punts this season. Dupree’s quick feet and shiftiness made him a natural for the job, and might provide him a way to attract the attention of NFL scouts.
And with junior Aaron Miller and promising redshirt freshman Trey White behind Dupree at QB, coach Kevin Higgins was not too worried about Dupree getting injured while catching punts.
But when White left school last week for personal reasons, Higgins had second thoughts about letting Dupree return punts. He turned instead to sophomore slotback Vinny Miller, who muffed two punts that led directly to Charleston Southern touchdowns in last week’s 32-29 loss to the Bucs.
“I’m kicking myself,” Higgins said of the decision Monday during his weekly news conference.
Dupree returned punts during Sunday’s practice and will be the punt-returner this week against Wofford.
“After Saturday, I’m not worried about that,” Higgins said of the risk of Dupree returning punts.
Though the Bulldogs had issues on offense and defense in losing for just the second time in seven meetings with CSU, Higgins pointed to the punt-return fiasco as the major reason for the defeat.
“You look at those two muffed punts, not only did we give the ball back to them, but that’s two less chances for our offense to move the ball and keep them off the field,” Higgins said. “That hurt.
“If we just run away from two punts, it’s probably a 14-point game and maybe even more. But we didn’t do that.”
The first muff came in the final seconds of the first half, with The Citadel up by 16-7. After Cam Mobley sacked CSU QB Malcolm Dixon for a nine-yard loss, Higgins called timeout with 58 seconds left.
“We’re thinking, we’ll call a timeout, go block a punt before the half,” Higgins said. “We’ve done that for the last three years, used the same kind of strategy, see if we can block a punt or get a drive at the end of the half.”
But once CSU gained nine yards on second down, Higgins did not call a second timeout. The Bucs wound up punting, and recovered Miller’s muff at the Bulldogs’ 19-yard line with 12 seconds left.
On the next play, Dixon found receiver Donte Sumpter for the TD and it was 16-14 at the half.
“When you give a team confidence and momentum and a chance to get back in the game, it’s human nature to tighten up a little bit,” Higgins said.
The Citadel had a 22-21 lead when Miller dropped another end-over-end punt from CSU freshman Truett Burns at his own 25. The Bucs needed only three plays to score for a 29-22 lead, and the Bulldogs never led again.
Now, they must pull themselves together for Saturday’s game against Wofford, which lost by 69-3 at Baylor on Saturday. Higgins said that despite that score, this Wofford team is much like the ones that have beaten the Bulldogs 14 times in a row.
“Everybody was pretty hurt on Saturday when that clock went down,” said defensive tackle Derek Douglas. “But come Sunday morning, I think everybody was ready to figure out what we’re doing now and get it done so we can get a win on Saturday.”
• Higgins had high praise for the CSU defense, which held the Bulldogs to 13 points over the final 35 minutes of the game.
“They used so many fronts that we had to block,” Higgins said. “Typically, teams that play four different fronts get themselves in trouble because they try to do too much. These guys had a good understanding of triple option, knew how to get lined up and executed it very well.”
• The Citadel played four freshmen against CSU: Receivers Jorian Jordan and Rudder Brown, tight end Nick Jeffreys and linebacker Tevin Floyd. Jordan caught two passes for 15 yards, but also had a costly illegal block penalty that wiped out a long Dupree TD run. The Bulldogs ended up scoring on that drive, however. Speedy freshman slot back Devan Robbins did not play.