BOONE, N.C. — When Domonic Jones came to The Citadel four years ago, he might have dreamed of becoming the heir apparent to Andre Roberts.
After all, Roberts had set Citadel receiving records in coach Kevin Higgins’ pass-happy spread offense, enough to earn himself a third-round pick in the NFL draft. Today, Roberts is thriving as a pass-catcher for the Arizona Cardinals.
But before Jones’ sophomore season, Higgins made a momentous decision. The Bulldogs would switch to the triple-option offense, transforming all receivers into blockers.
Jones, a 6-5 senior from Fernandina Beach, Fla., has found a way to become an impact player without catching lots of balls. Instead, he blocks lots of balls.
Jones’ block of an Appalachian State punt Saturday led to an 8-yard touchdown run by Carson Smith, a back-breaking play in the Bulldogs’ 52-28 rout of the Mountaineers.
Last week, Jones snuffed a field goal by Georgia Southern, a key play in the Bulldogs’ 23-21 upset of the Eagles.
Over the last two seasons, Jones has blocked seven kicks, six of them punts. Last year, he blocked a punt against App State and ran it back himself for a TD.
“That blocked punt was a momentum changer,” Higgins said. “Domonic has tremendous knack for what he does, the best in t
he country at what he does.”
Said Jones, “I’ve got to give it up to our special-teams coach, (Aashon) Larkins. He’s taught me everything I know. I never thought I’d be a punt-blocker.”
Bulldogs quarterbacks Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller combined to hit 4 of 6 passes for 155 yards without an interception, a good sign for a team that averaged 32 passing yards a game last season.
Dupree was 2 of 4 for 56 yards, and Miller hit both his throws for 99 yards. Matt Thompson caught three balls for 123 yards, and Domonic Jones one for 32 yards.
“The only reason we passed the ball so well is because we ran the ball so well,” said Thompson, a former quarterback. “Without the run, we can’t pass.”
Indeed, Citadel receivers averaged 38.7 yards per catch as App State safeties sold out to stop a running attack that produced 463 yards. The 695 yards allowed by App State was its most since Chattanooga racked up 695 yards in a 59-56 win in 2004.
Higgins praised sophomore linebacker Carson Smith for keeping his wits about him as he scooped up a blocked punt and went eight yards for a TD that made it 31-0 in the second quarter.
“Nobody was around him, but he took his time, he didn’t fall on it,” Higgins said.
Smith, who also picked off a pass and made seven tackles, said he had thought about just such a play during the week.
“We saw their punter comes really close to the blocking shield on his kicks,” Smith said. “So we went right over the top, and Domonic got it. I thought about that a lot this week in practice, and we had some funny bounces in practice. I said, I’m going to take my time and get this one.”
App State running back Steven Miller was the Mountaineers’ only bright spot, with 167 yards and three touchdowns. But he stated the obvious — App State was not ready to play.
“I can’t blame it on anybody, we just were not prepared,” he said. “They just came in ahead of the game plan.”
Said linebacker Jeremy Kimbrough, “We are just going to have to swallow the pill and get back to work. They gave it to us early, and we weren’t quite ready to recover from it.”
Linebacker Carl Robinson led the Bulldogs with 13 tackles, and recovered a fumble … Cornerback Sadath Jean-Pierre had 10 tackles, and freshman defensive end Mark Thomas had the Bulldogs’ only sack.
The Citadel last beat two top 10 teams in the same season in 1991.
The Citadel’s 618 total yards were their most ever in a regulation game, surpassing the 610 the Bulldogs put up against VMI in 1992. It was just shy of the 641 yards The Citadel had in an overtime win over Furman in 2007.
For the first time in 10 career starts, App State QB Jamal Jackson did not pass for 200 yards or account for 250 yards of total offense. He was 23 of 32 for 164 yards with 217 yards of total offense.