Pat Sullivan didn't need to be hit over the head with a Heisman Trophy to know that something needed to change.
Sullivan, who won the Heisman as an Auburn quarterback in 1971, watched his Samford football team sputter to a 4-7 record last year, closing out the season with four field goals in a desultory 13-12 loss to The Citadel.
"I wanted to go in the direction of a fast-paced offense," said Sullivan, whose team faces The Citadel (4-5, 2-5) again today on homecoming at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Sullivan went to what has become the one-stop shop for fast-paced offense -- the coaching tree of Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, which also produced Clemson coordinator Chad Morris.
Sullivan hired Rhett Lashlee, who worked as a graduate assistant under Malzahn at Auburn and Arkansas, and played quarterback for him at Springdale (Ark.) High School.
The turnaround has been, well, fast. Samford (5-4, 3-4) is averaging 30.7 points per game, two touchdowns better than last year's 17.8, and ranks third in the Southern Conference in total offense (401 yards per game).
Samford does it at a quick pace, averaging 75 snaps per game. The Citadel, by way of contrast, averages about 62 plays per game.
"That's one reason we've gone to wristbands (with play calls) on defense," said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins. "We didn't want to be limited to two or three calls with the no-huddle teams we'd be playing this year. Samford is like Clemson or Auburn; they want to get to 80-plus plays per game, and that's something you have to be ready for. We've got to get the calls in quickly, and make sure it's the proper call."
Samford has good balance between run (362 plays) and pass (316) attempts, and quarterback Dustin Taliaferro has thrown for 1,900 yards and 12 touchdowns. But the key to beating Samford is stopping the run game and tailback Fabian Truss (799 yards, seven touchdowns).
In Samford's five wins, it is averaging 259 rushing yards per game. In four losses, that number is 96 yards per game. And Samford's three SoCon wins have come against the bottom three rushing defenses -- Furman, Elon and Western Carolina.
The Citadel is fourth in the SoCon in rushing defense (160.9 ypg). Samford is 0-3 against the top three rushing defenses, averaging just 62 yards in losses to Georgia Southern, Wofford and Chattanooga.
If The Citadel can replicate those numbers, it can achieve a fifth victory for the first time since the 2007 team went 7-4. That would be a good way to send out 22 seniors in their final home game.
"We've put in a lot of effort over the last four and five years," said senior tackle Tyler Thornton. "I'd love for us to put it all together, play together and play hard and leave Johnson Hagood with a good taste in our mouths."