At 1-3, Citadel’s sole focus is Furman

Citadel fullback Darien Robinson ran for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a 59-58 loss at Old Dominion last week. (Marjorie Maxon/Special to The Post and Courier)

With a 1-3 record, The Citadel football team finds itself in a vastly different position than last year, when the Bulldogs won their first three games.

Yet coach Kevin Higgins says his team can draw on lessons from 2012, when The Citadel followed its 3-0 start with three straight losses on the way to a 7-4 record.

To wit: Just as a 3-0 start doesn’t guarantee a championship, neither does a 1-3 start spell certain doom.

“We found that out last year when we started 3-0,” said Higgins, whose team dropped a 59-58 decision at Old Dominion last weekend. “You start worrying about the big picture and counting the numbers … For us, it’s all about this week’s opponent.”

That would be rival Furman (1-2), which comes to Johnson Hagood Stadium on Saturday for the Paladins’ Southern Conference opener. For the Bulldogs, who are 1-1 in the SoCon, it’s the first of six straight league games that will determine the success or failure of Higgins’ ninth season.

Despite the 1-3 start, the Bulldogs are in second place in the SoCon behind only Wofford (2-2, 2-0), and the league is not exactly a powerhouse this season. Neither a SoCon title nor an FCS playoff bid is off the table yet for the Bulldogs.

“Where ever we are now, if we go win this game we’ve got two (victories),” Higgins said. “Win the next one, and we’re back where we need to be. We can’t worry about what took place in the first three or four games, other than learn from them. Let’s just do everything we can to get a win against Furman.”

After the offense struggled in a 21-10 loss to Wofford on Sept. 14, a back-to-basics move has boosted the Bulldogs in the last two games. The Citadel’s triple-option produced 343 rushing yards yards in a 28-21 win at Western Carolina, and had a record-setting performance in Saturday’s shootout loss at ODU.

Quarterback Ben Dupree was named SoCon player of the week Monday after rushing for 149 yards and a school-record five touchdowns, and hitting 5 of 8 passes for 113 yards and a TD, against the Monarchs.

Fullback Darien Robinson ran for 227 yards and two scores, the first 200-yard game by a Citadel back since 2006. The Bulldogs totaled 566 yards and scored the most points in a losing effort in school history.

“We had problems getting started this season from an execution standpoint,” said Robinson, who is averaging 91 yards per game to Dupree’s 96.2. “That was frustrating from a team standpoint. But we went back to basics at Western Carolina and kept it moving at Old Dominion. There were still a few things we could have done better, not turning the ball over and things like that.”

After surrendering 59 points and 542 yards to ODU’s fast-paced offense – the Monarchs ran a play every 19.96 seconds against The Citadel, faster on average than even Clemson – the Bulldogs’ defense is eager to get in on the act.

“It was hard to see the offense have all that success, and in the second half we were not able to get a stop when we needed one,” said defensive end Bay Amrhein. “I know the defense is ready to step up this week and make a stand.”

If the Bulldogs can top Furman, they will be 2-1 in the SoCon heading into the heart of their league schedule – Appalachian State, at Georgia Southern, at Chattanooga and Samford.

“As long as we keep getting better in all phases and take them one at a time,” Higgins said, “who knows what can take place?”