Citadel blasts Furman to win third straight (copy)

Citadel slotback Cam Jackson (18) and the Bulldogs' seniors have a chance to go 4-0 against rival Furman with a win Saturday. File/Provided 

Beating Furman in football is always its own reward, as thousands of Citadel alumni will attest.

But with a win in Saturday's 2 p.m. game in Greenville, seniors on the 2017 Citadel team have a chance to burnish an already shiny legacy that includes two of the four Southern Conference championships the Bulldogs have won since they started playing football in 1905.

A fourth straight win over the Paladins would:

• Give the senior class a total of 30 victories in four seasons, tying the 1994 senior class for most wins a four-year period in program history.

• Guarantee a third straight winning season, a feat last accomplished in 1990-92.

• Tie for the third-longest win streak against Furman since the rivalry began in 1913.

"We've got a senior class here that deserves a winning year," said Citadel coach Brent Thompson, whose team ends the season at defending FBS national champ Clemson next week. "They've played their butts off for four and five years here to get this program to where it's at.

"We need to step up and make sure we get a winning year, and that starts with this week's game. It's also the Furman game, and with those two things, we still have a lot of motivation to play for."

But to make all that happen, The Citadel (5-4, 3-4) will have to solve a couple of problems: The Bulldogs' own red-zone issues, and a powerful offense that's led Furman (6-3, 5-1) to six straight victories.

The Citadel's season-long red-zone struggles were on display again in last week's 31-19 loss to Western Carolina, when the Bulldogs managed just one touchdown in five trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

For the season, The Citadel ranks last in the SoCon in red-zone offense in league play, with 14 scores in 29 chances (48.3 percent). Samford is next-lowest at 66.7 percent.

The Bulldogs have only 12 TDs in those 29 chances (41.4 percent), and have missed 6 of 8 field goals in the red zone. Furman, by way of contrast, has scored 18 TDs in 23 red-zone trips (78.2 percent). 

The Citadel has five red-zone turnovers in SoCon play; the other eight teams in the league have combined for just eight.

"It's haunted us, and we've got to be better at it," Thompson said. "The field gets shorter in the red zone, and gets smaller. You go from 10-yard safeties defending the field to five-yard safeties.

"You've got to be able to dig out linebackers who are two or three yards off the ball instead of four or five. You've got to be tighter with your alignments and gaps and with your whole game."

On the other side of the ball, The Citadel's defense — No. 1 in the league in total defense, No. 2 in scoring and rushing defense — must deal with a rare option offense that can also throw the ball with stunning efficiency.

Led by fullbacks Antonio Wilcox and Kealand Deas, the Paladins are averaging 243 rushing yards per game, fourth in the SoCon under first-year coach Clay Hendrix.

Senior quarterback P.J. Blazejowski has thrown just 147 passes this season, ahead of only Wofford's Brandon Goodson (100) and The Citadel's Dominique Allen (81) among the SoCon's starting QBs.

Yet he's hit 61.2 percent of his throws for 1,595 yards and 14 TDs against just three interceptions, ranking No. 1 among SoCon starters in passing efficiency. Furman receivers Logan McCarter (20.2), Thomas Gordan (18.9) and Andy Schumpert (20.1) have three of the top four yards per catch averages in the SoCon.

"They are good up front and open up a lot of gaps," Thompson said. "And I love the way their B-backs (fullbacks) play. They've got two really good ones. They don't hurt themselves."

"They are very similar to us, very similar to Wofford now. They run just enough shotgun veer to keep you honest and do a good job with the play-action pass, then settle you down with the B-backs up the middle.

Furman defensive coordinator Chad Staggs ran Charleston Southern's defense during the Bucs' four-game win streak over The Citadel.

"They commit a lot of guys to the run and do a good job with the run game, and coach Staggs has always done a good job against the run," Thompson said.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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