Citadel's new scheme fits senior linebacker

Jeremy Buncum

The triple-option offense is not the only new scheme for the Citadel football team. A bit more quietly, the Bulldogs also have adjusted their defense this season, and the reason lies mostly with senior linebacker Jeremy Buncum.

In an effort to get Buncum on the field, The Citadel switched from last season's 4-3 defense, an alignment featuring four linemen and three linebackers, to a 3-4 that has three linemen and four linebackers.

Buncum, a 6-0, 210-pounder from Stratford High School, has made the switch pay off with 13 tackles, including a team-high three tackles for loss, in two games heading into Saturday's contest at Elon.

"He's playing as well as anybody on the team," Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said of Buncum. "He has really come on strong in the first couple of games."

Buncum probably would not even be starting if not for the switch to the 3-4. The Citadel played with four down linemen during most of last year's 3-8 season, with Buncum coming off the bench to spell starting linebacker Rod Harland.

In the final game of the regular season, a 13-12 win over Samford, the Bulldogs went to a 3-4 front with defensive end Erik Clanton playing a hybrid end/linebacker position.

"That worked well for us," Higgins said.

But the Bulldogs lost Clanton and his nine quarterback sacks to graduation, leaving five senior linebackers as the core of the returning defense. With Tolu Akindele, DeAndre Smith and Harland entrenched as starters, Citadel coaches wanted to find a way to get Buncum in the game.

"He's not big enough to play strictly defensive end," Higgins said. "He's a hybrid, a guy who can rush the passer or drop into coverage. So in the offseason, we started looking at ways to get our best players on the field, and that meant getting Jeremy on the field."

Citadel assistant Gerald Dixon approached Buncum with the plan over the summer, bringing some DVDs of top NFL pass rushers with him.

"He told me I was going to become a pass-rush specialist," Buncum said.

That was welcome news to Buncum, who has been playing football since he was 5 years old -- except for seventh and eighth grade, when he was somehow cut from the B-team.

"That's all I played on the outside when I was growing up, in high school and when I first got to The Citadel," said Buncum, whose dad is a Mount Pleasant police officer and mom a minister at Eastside Baptist Church in Charleston. "You get to rush the passer, cover receivers, play against the run. It's really the only position where you get to do all three."

In the Bulldogs' season- opening win over Jacksonville, Buncum debuted at his new position with seven tackles, including two for loss, and a forced fumble. He came back in a 16-6 loss to Furman with six tackles, two for loss.

Against pass-happy Elon, he'll get plenty of chances to rush the passer and cover receivers.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "It should be fun."

--Elon (2-1) has had a run of bad luck with injuries. Freshman receiver Andre Davis, who had been starting, suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's 23-22 win over North Carolina Central. He joins injured receivers Jeremy Peterson and Rasaun Rorie and suspended Kierre Brown on the sidelines. Also, starting right guard Rodney Austin is out for at least two months with a broken foot. Austin, a 6-4, 311-pound senior, was an All-SoCon player last year. His backup is 6-3, 284-pound sophomore Dennis Wagner.

Follow Jeff Hartsell on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC.

Who: The Citadel (1-1, 0-1) at Elon (2-1, 0-0)

When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Rhodes Stadium, Elon, N.C.