Citadel offense trying to escape no-passing zone

Coach Kevin Higgins is working with QB Ben Dupree to help boost the Bulldogs' passing efficiency.

Brad Nettles

The only pass completed by The Citadel against Elon on Saturday was an end-over-end wobbler tossed by a running back, Rickey Anderson. Wide receiver Kevin Hardy could have called for a fair catch before settling under it in the end zone.

Obviously, the Bulldogs will have to do better than that to break through for their first Southern Conference victory this week at 17th-ranked Chattanooga.

"We have to pass the ball better, everybody can see that," said Citadel coach Kevin Higgins, whose team hit 1 of 6 throws for 10 yards in the 18-15 overtime loss at Elon, and ranks last (48.3 ypg) and passing efficiency. "That's obvious."

What's less obvious is how to fix it. At his news conference Monday, Higgins reaffirmed his belief in starter Ben Dupree, while leaving open the possibility of using backup Matt Thompson or even true freshman Aaron Miller.

"Possibly," Higgins said when asked about using other QBs. "Ben has only started five games now, so there is still a learning curve. He obviously has to get better. Ben has to improve, but if we need to use Matt or Aaron, we will."

Dupree, a 5-9 sophomore, was 0 of 3 against Elon, and in three games is 13 of 26 for 135 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. Thompson, also a sophomore, was inserted late in the first half against Elon in an obvious passing situation, and his only pass was picked off. Higgins has been hoping to redshirt Miller, a 6-0, 215-pounder from Clover who was impressive in preseason scrimmages.

Personnel changes aside, it's not clear what else the Bulldogs can do, except play better. Dupree had receiver Greg Adams open on a wheel route and overthrew him, and receiver Luke Caldwell missed an open Hardy on a trick play. And even though Dupree got off only three passes, he was sacked twice.

Elon used four and five-man fronts to stack the box with as many as 10 players at the line of scrimmage, overwhelming the Bulldogs' triple option. Higgins said other foes, starting this week with Chattanooga, will do the same thing until The Citadel makes them pay with the passing game. The Mocs' improved defense held No. 3 Appalachian State without an offensive TD in Saturday's 14-12 loss.

"The thing we need to be able to do is throw it off our play-action, off our option," he said. "We have to take some pressure off the running game and get those safeties back off the line of scrimmage."

That's what effective options teams do. Top-ranked Georgia Southern and No. 6 Wofford, for example, average 10.1 and 11.5 yards per passing attempt, compared with The Citadel's 5.0. The Terriers and Eagles are second and third in the SoCon in passing efficiency, the Bulldogs last.

"Ben has got to step up," Higgins said. "He didn't have his best game against Elon, and we've got to do some things to help him out."

--Fullback Terrell Dallas, out since the season opener with a stretched medial collateral ligament in his knee, could be headed for a redshirt season, Higgins said. Dallas is unlikely to play this week, and if he can't go against Wofford on Oct. 8, a redshirt is possible ... Higgins said The Citadel will stick with kicker Ryan Sellers, who missed field goals of 20 and 37 yards against Elon, the second in overtime. "It's still early in the season and you have to stay with him," Higgins said "And he's by far our best kicker, if you line up our four kickers, this guy is heads and shoulders above them. He has to do it." Higgins said the snap and hold were fine on both kicks.