Dark clouds hung over Johnson Hagood Stadium just before kickoff Saturday night, much like the chief questions — quarterback and defense — that hung over The Citadel’s football team in preseason practice.
The skies cleared up, and so did some of those questions as the Bulldogs romped to a 69-0 victory over Davidson in their season opener before 8,665 fans at Johnson Hagood. It was the most points The Citadel has ever scored in an opener.
First-time starter Dominique Allen acquitted himself well at quarterback, and a defense that coach Mike Houston promised would be more aggressive in his second season picked off four passes, surpassing its total of three from all of last year.
Linebacker Tevin Floyd took one of those picks back 28 yards for a touchdown. Fullback Isiaha Smith rushed for 109 yards and three scores, and his backup, Evan McField, had 132 yards and a TD on 20 carries. Allen ran for two TDs and passed for another.
“The thing we harped on is that we wanted to come out and look sharp and do the things that good football teams do,” said Houston, who is now 6-7 at The Citadel. “That means no penalties, take care of the football, execute, play aggressively and fly around without busted coverages. We didn’t want the mistakes you commonly see in openers.”
The Bulldogs were relatively clean, with only five penalties and one turnover, a borderline call on a fumble through the end zone by freshman slotback Rod Johnson.
Houston sat sophomore slotback Cam Jackson for most of the game, saving him for next week’s Southern Conference showdown against Western Carolina. Jackson tweaked “something” early in the game, according to Houston, and did not return, though he could have, the coach said.
All of that came against a struggling Davidson program that plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer League and has lost 23 of its last 24 games. Still, the opener was all Houston could hope for as the Bulldogs prepare for Western Carolina, which beat The Citadel by 25-19 last year.
“Obviously, we have a huge ball game here next week, an early matchup with a very good program,” Houston said of the Catamounts, picked to finish second in the SoCon this season. “At least early on, it will give somebody a leg up in the SoCon.”
Allen, who played in three games as Aaron Miller’s backup last year, admitted to some nerves before his first start. But the 6-1, 214-pounder carried 11 times for 81 yards and hit all five of his passes for 67 yards, including a 17-yard TD to Jorian Jordan, as the Bulldogs totaled 602 yards, 535 on the ground.
“I thought he did great,” Houston said. “He was good at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, recognizing the defense and the coverage and putting us in the right play. He distributed the ball very well and threw the ball well, too.”
On The Citadel’s first possession, Allen handed off to the 5-10, 230-pound Smith on the first four plays, Smith running for 39 yards to set up Allen’s four-yard TD.
“That definitely helped me settle down,” Allen said. “We wanted to establish the fullback, but it also helped alleviate some of the pressure off me when I can hand off to guys like Isiaha and Evan McField.”
The Bulldogs’ first interception, by cornerback Dee Delaney, set up offense at the Davidson 45, and Allen threw for 24 yards to a wide-open Smith on second-and-1. That set up Smith’s 2-yard TD for a 14-0 lead with just 10 seconds left in the first quarter.
That was enough time for Davidson to run a play, and Floyd made the Wildcats pay by stepping in front of a Taylor Mitchell pass and returning the pick 28 yards for a 21-0 lead after 15 minutes.
“We are more aggressive because we know what we are doing now,” said Floyd, who led the team with eight sacks along with linebacker James Riley. “We’ve got a year under our belt in the defense now, and it’s allowing us to play faster.”
Bandit Dondray Copeland’s interception set up Allen’s 17-yard TD pass to Jorian Jordan for a 28-0 lead, and Smith scored from eight yards out to make it 35-0 at the half.
Freshman slotback Rod Johnson scored his first college TD on a 1-yard run for 42-0 early in the third quarter, and Allen’s second score made it 49-0. Smith and freshman slotback Rod Johnson added TD runs, and backup QB Shon Belton raced 48 yards for his first college score.