Citadel defensive tackle Derek Douglas shook his head as he emerged from the Bulldogs’ tiny locker room at Old Dominion last Saturday night.
Who: Furman (1-2, 0-0) at The Citadel (1-3, 1-1)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Johnson Hagood Stadium
“Our offense was spectacular tonight,” Douglas said after The Citadel’s 59-58 loss at ODU. “They did everything they could to get us a win. The defense, we needed to step up a little bit, and I think we failed there.”
The Bulldogs are hardly the first football team to experience failure against Old Dominion’s fast-break offense, which is averaging 45.8 points per game this season. And The Citadel won’t face an offense quite like that again until the regular-season finale at Clemson on Nov. 23.
But that didn’t stop Bulldog defenders from taking personally every one of the 59 points and 542 yards surrendered at ODU. They say they are ready to make a statement in Saturday’s 6 p.m. Southern Conference game against rival Furman at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
“It will be a fight down in the trenches, but I think we will come to play,” said defensive end Bay Amrhein. “I think we’ll step it up. It was hard last week, seeing the offense have all that success and in the second half we could not get a stop when we needed one.
“I know the defense is ready to step up and make a stand.”
Against 1-2 Furman, the 1-3 Bulldogs face a Paladins offense that stands fifth in the SoCon in points per game (23.3) but dead last among nine teams in total offense (275.3 yards per game).
Junior tailback Hank McCloud is rushing for 86.7 yards per game, fifth in the league, but the Paladins’ passing attack has struggled. Furman’s 121.7 passing yards per game is worst among the non-triple-option teams in the league, trailing even Georgia Southern’s 134.7 yards per game.
Sophomore quarterback Reese Hannon missed Furman’s opener, a 28-21 loss to Gardner-Webb, with a strained abdominal muscle. In two games since, he’s hit 27 of 50 passes for 242 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
In a 21-20 win at Presbyterian in the Paladins’ previous game, Hannon was 10 of 19 for just 51 yards, and Furman needed a blocked field goal in the final seconds to emerge victorious.
An open date last week came at a good time for Furman and coach Bruce Fowler, who is 10-15 in his third season at his alma mater.
“We have a lot of areas we need to improve after our first three games,” said Fowler, whose team also lost by 35-28 at Coastal Carolina. “We’re close in some areas, and I hope we’re closer this week than we played Presbyterian.
“We’ve got some guys playing for the first time, and you hope three games’ experience will help us.”
Furman is especially young on defense, where 14 players on the two-deep are first- or second-year players. In last year’s 42-20 win at Furman, The Citadel ran for 309 yards, led by 84 yards and a TD from quarterback Ben Dupree.
Dupree, a senior from Harrisburg, Pa., has played some of his best football at The Citadel over the last two weeks, rushing for 275 yards and scoring seven touchdowns against Western Carolina and ODU. He accounted for six touchdowns against Old Dominion, including a school-record five rushing scores.
“From an offensive standpoint, our execution has been much better,” said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins. “There is a new-found confidence in our ability to move the ball and sustain drives.”
The Bulldogs will wear throwback jerseys for Saturday’s 93rd meeting with Furman. Citadel fans can bid on the game-worn jerseys in an auction that will close Oct. 4. See www.citadelsports.com for details.
Saturday’s game is First Responders’ Night. First responders with proper ID, and immediate family members, can buy tickets for $5.