Through a quarter of the college football season, the top three rushing teams in FCS are Georgia Southern, Wofford and The Citadel.
The three Southern Conference schools, all running a version of the option offense, are averaging 416, 355 and 298 yards on the ground, respectively. But when it comes to putting the ball into the end zone, there is a disconnect for the Bulldogs.
GSU scores 48.3 points per game, tops in the country. Wofford is No. 20, piling up 33.3 points per contest. But The Citadel is 96th out of 120 teams, with an average of 17.3 points.
Figuring out how to translate those rushing yards into points is just one of the tasks ahead of The Citadel in tonight’s game at 17th-ranked Chattanooga.
“We have to be able score points, especially when we get in the red zone,” said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, whose 1-2 squad is off to an 0-2 start in SoCon play.
What’s holding back the Bulldogs?
The Citadel, which has lost 12 of its last 13 SoCon games, rank last in the league in red-zone offense, with just three touchdowns and three field goals on nine trips inside the 20-yard line. A prime example of red-zone struggles occurred early in last week’s 18-15 overtime loss at Elon. An 11-play opening drive took the ball
inside the Elon 5. But on third-and-goal at the 3, the Bulldogs threw an incomplete pass, then missed a 20-yard field goal on fourth down.
“We talked about getting off to a good start and we started with an 11-play drive,” Higgins said. “But then we came away with no points.”
The Bulldogs are last in the SoCon in passing offense with 48.3 yards per game, and their lone TD pass was thrown by running back Rickey Anderson at Elon. That’s well behind option squads Wofford (126 ypg, four TDs) and Georgia Southern (111 ypg, two TDs). And the weak passing attack is a major reason The Citadel is last in third-down conversions (38.5 percent).
Higgins said “possibly” when asked if Citadel fans might see more of backup quarterback Matt Thompson or even freshman Aaron Miller in place of starter Ben Dupree today against the Mocs.
Scoring aside, the Bulldogs have shown improvement in year two of the option. They are averaging about 91 more rushing yards per game this season than last year, and have cut way back on turnover margin (they are even this year after going -13 last year) and fumbles (2.6 per game this year, 4.4 last year).
Guard Keith Carter said mastering nuances of the option will help.
“It is not so much the defense coming at us. It has to do more with our timing and the reads,” he said. “If you look at the Elon game, it is not that they were playing in our backfield. It is the timing of our blocks.”
Today, the Bulldogs will have to figure it out against a much improved Mocs defense that held No. 3 Appalachian State without an offensive TD in last week’s 14-12 loss. Chattanooga surrendered 31.2 points and 370 yards per game last year, but has those numbers down to 21.2 points and 276 yards this year.
“They have a little more experience than last year, especially on the back end,” Higgins said. “Their team speed is very impressive. Their linebackers are playing extremely well and their secondary is very disciplined. They look faster and stronger than last season.”
The Citadel is No. 1 in the SoCon in scoring defense (14.3 ppg) and has two of the top three tacklers in linebackers Tolu Akindele (No. 1 with 10.3 per game) and Rod Harland (third at 10) ... Derek Douglas is tied for second in sacks with three ... Cornerback Brandon McCladdie has forced two fumbles, second in the league, and safety Davis Boyle has recovered two, tops in the SoCon.