Citadel football coach Brent Thompson spent part of Monday morning watching tape of his team's 37-14 loss to Eastern Kentucky.
He upgraded his assessment just a bit from his instant review on Saturday: "Downright embarrassed" and "our worst outing of the year."
"It was probably a little bit better than that," said Thompson, whose 0-3 Bulldogs have a bye this week before wrapping up a four-game fall slate at Army West Point on Oct. 10.
"We were there to make some plays on defense, but they got us into space and outjumped us with their receivers," Thompson said. "On offense, we moved the ball but had some self-inflicted wounds — a holding penalty, six fumbles and two that we didn't recover. On some plays, I thought we were one or two blocks from busting a big one, but we never quite got there."
Grading the Bulldogs during this pandemic-shortened season is difficult. The Citadel has lost two road games at FBS squads (South Florida and No. 1 Clemson), and faces a third FBS team at Army West Point; normally, the Bulldogs would face only one FBS team in a season. And The Citadel's only home game was against an unfamiliar FCS foe in Eastern Kentucky, from the Ohio Valley Conference.
Factor in the 11 players who opted out due to COVID-19 concerns — including an All-America transfer running back and most of the starting backfield — and The Citadel has a short-handed team facing one of the most difficult schedule stretches in recent history.
Still, with 24 penalties and seven turnovers in three games, the Bulldogs have also not played up to their own standard, no matter the opponent.
"It's a good time," Thompson said, "for the bye week and to get back to playing a little bit of fundamental football."
The Citadel committed six penalties against EKU after getting called for nine each against USF and Clemson.
"The penalties were a lot better than the false starts and things that plagued us at Clemson and South Florida," Thompson said. "But we did have a personal foul and a block in the back. We had a couple of mistakes, and they get magnified by just being a little light at some positions, at B-back and A-back. They get gassed pretty quickly because they are running around quite a bit and we just don't have anyone else to put in."
After totaling 286 rushing yards in the first two games against USF and Clemson, The Citadel piled up 347 yards on 67 attempts against EKU. Fullback Emeka Nwanze, likely the third-team B-back if the Bulldogs were at full strength, ran for a career-best 114 yards on 22 carries. Slotback Keefe White averaged 9.9 yards per carry for 89 yards on nine attempts.
But the Bulldogs faced third-and-long (five yards or more) on nine different occasions, converting three times. They were 8 of 15 on third down and 2 of 3 on fourth down.
"When we got off track, we got off track in a big way," Thompson said.
The season finale at Army will be the Bulldogs' last game until the spring, when the Southern Conference hopes to play its league schedule. If that does not happen, it could be The Citadel's final game until the fall of 2021.
Army, coached by former Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken, is 2-1 after a 24-10 loss to No. 14 Cincinnati on Saturday.
The Army game plays a big part in Citadel football lore, with Bulldogs victories over the Black Knights in 1991 and '92. The teams last played in 1994, when Army eked out a 25-24 victory.
"The bottom line is, we've got to use this as an opportunity to get better and get a win," Thompson said. "Otherwise, what are we doing? We want to get better for the spring season, no doubt, but we have an opportunity to play on TV, to play an FBS school and a chance to go on the road and get a win. That all comes into play this week."
• The Citadel announced Monday it expects to receive no tickets from Army for the Oct. 10 game at Michie Stadium.
The contract with Army called for The Citadel to receive 500 tickets to sell and 400 complimentary tickets "if fans are allowed to attend." Army allowed cadets only at its first two home games.
The Citadel will receive a guarantee of $225,000 from Army.
• Thompson's film review did not improve his assessment of one aspect of the EKU game.
"The officiating didn't get any better, I'll tell you that," he said.