The Citadel’s 52-14 loss at North Carolina State on Saturday cost the Bulldogs only one spot in each of the FCS national polls.
Even better news: It doesn’t disqualify the Bulldogs from winning the Southern Conference.
The Citadel (3-1, 2-0 SoCon) returns to league play against Chattanooga (1-3, 0-1) on Saturday at Johnson Hagood Stadium, and the Bulldogs are eager to get on with trying to win their first league title since 1992.
“We knew we’d have to play a perfect game to get a win at N.C. State,” fullback Darien Robinson said Monday. “Obviously, we didn’t do that. But we’re over it, and we’re ready to get back to where we started in the SoCon.”
Struggling against a superior FBS squad does not mean a team can’t win the SoCon. In the last five seasons, teams that won or shared the SoCon title have gone 1-6 against FBS teams, the losses by an average score of 39-16.
The lone win was Appalachian State’s shocking 34-32 upset of a No. 5 Michigan team in 2007.
The key, Citadel football coach Kevin Higgins said, is to put to good use the lessons learned against N.C. State
“They will see loud and clear on film what we didn’t do well against N.C. State,” Higgins said Monday at his weekly news conference. “Hopefully, we will learn from that and see improvement on Saturday.”
In particular, Higgins said the Bulldogs were tentative on defense, and did not stick to technique on offense.
Shadrack Thornton, a freshman tailback making his college debut, ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns as N.C. State piled up 515 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per play. Heading into the game, The Citadel had allowed 348 yards per game and 5.5 per play.
“We struggled playing gap control and did not do a good job against their run game,” he said. “We were not as aggressive as we needed to be.”
On offense, the Bulldogs’ option could find no room inside against N.C. State’s tackles, and could not cope with the Wolfpack’s speed on the perimeter. Quarterback Ben Dupree, who ran for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the win at App State, had one yard on eight carries.
“We abandoned our techniques a little bit,” Higgins said. “We didn’t do what we had been taught to do. Each game is going to have ups and downs, but when you get into tough times, we have to make sure we get back to our techniques and what we are trained to do.”
Chattanooga struggled on offense in a 34-17 loss to App State last week, using two quarterbacks (Jacob Huesman and Terrell Robinson) while totaling just 270 yards.
But the Mocs, Higgins said, do a better job of defending the option than any team in the league. Last season, Chattanooga lost to each of the SoCon’s three option teams (Georgia Southern, Wofford, The Citadel) by the same 28-27 score, allowing an average of 316 rushing yards per game.
A win over Chattanooga would give The Citadel its first 3-0 start in league play since that magical year of 1992, with only two SoCon foes with winning records (4-0 Samford, 3-0 Wofford) left on the schedule.
Yet another reason to put N.C. State in the rearview mirror.
“We did not play our best game last week,” said senior safety Davis Boyle. “But we learned from it. If we can get back to attacking like we were against Georgia Southern and App State, I think we’ll be all right.”
The Citadel fell one spot in the FCS Coaches Poll to No. 15, and one spot in The Sports Network media poll to No. 11.
All-SoCon defensive tackle Derek Douglas played against N.C. State for the first time since tearing an ACL in spring practice. He should be ready for 20 to 25 snaps against Chattanooga, Higgins said, depending on how practice goes this week.
The top three teams in the SoCon in scoring offense are option teams: Wofford (55 ppg), Georgia Southern (35 ppg) and The Citadel (34.5 ppg)
Freshman DE Mark Thomas has six tackles this year. Three of those are sacks, tying him for second in the SoCon.