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The Citadel at Army: When option teams collide

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Saturday's game at Army West Point could be the last in a Citadel uniform for Bulldog veterans such as quarterback Brandon Rainey. Lauren Petracca/Staff

The famed West Point Hotel, overlooking the Hudson River in West Point, N.Y., has hosted guests ranging from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

The latest guests to check into the historic hotel (now renovated and known as the Thayer Hotel), on the campus of Army, is The Citadel's football team, slated to play the Black Knights on Saturday at Michie Stadium.

"I think we'll be well taken care of," said Citadel coach Brent Thompson, who grew up in the Hudson Valley. "My family was a little jealous when they heard we'd be staying at the Thayer."

The trip to West Point to play Army is the closest thing to a bowl game or postseason game The Citadel will come during this pandemic-shortened fall season. It's the final scheduled game of the 2020 season for the 0-3 Bulldogs, and could be the last game in a Citadel uniform for veterans such as quarterback Brandon Rainey, receiver Raleigh Webb and linebacker Willie Eubanks III.

"We're looking forward," Thompson said, "to showing our kids what it's like to play a service academy on the banks of the Hudson."

In some respects, it will be like looking in a mirror. Aside from being military schools, both The Citadel and Army (3-1) are members of college football's triple-option fraternity, running very similar run-heavy offenses that seek to chew up yardage and game clock.

"I don't know that their option is a whole lot different than ours," said Army coach Jeff Monken, who coached against the Bulldogs during his 2010-13 tenure at Georgia Southern. "It is very similar to what all of us do in this offense ... controlling the ball and being so different from what defenses are used to defending."

Army's version of the option is averaging 350.5 rushing yards per game and averaging 33 minutes, 38 seconds in time of possession, ranking in the top 10 of FBS teams in both categories. Third-team quarterback Jamel Jones rushed for 138 yards and two scores in a 55-23 win over Abilene Christian last week.

The only team that's been able to slow Army's rushing attack is Cincinnati, which was ranked No. 14 when it held the Black Knights to 182 yards in a 24-10 win on Sept. 26.

"Cincinnati was a tough football team," Monken said. "There were things we did well in that game, but things we were inconsistent with as well. I thought some of the inconsistencies carried over to this week (against Abilene Christian), and there were times I was disappointed with the way we were playing and the situations we got ourselves into that we could have done a better job controlling."

Army's rushing attack has been complemented by a Black Knights defense that is allowing just 66.8 rushing yards per game and 2.6 yards per attempt. Former Wofford assistant Nate Woody is Army's defensive coordinator and knows the Bulldogs' option well.

"Our kids are playing really hard and they are working hard to learn the defense and take the defense another step this week," Monken said. "That has really been a positive for us. But it is a team game, and controlling the ball and keeping the ball away from opponents is something we strive to do on offense, which I hope helps us play better defense.

"I think having the philosophy that it is a team game really helps. Our defense helps our offense be better, and our offense helps our defense be better."

Army holds a 7-2 series lead over The Citadel, and the teams haven't played since 1994. But victories over Army in 1991 and '92 are a huge part of Citadel football history. Claiming victory in Saturday's game would be an even bigger upset, with Army a 29-point favorite.

"It's going to take a tremendous defensive effort, because they are very good," Thompson said. "We'll have to create some turnovers, or they will monopolize the clock on you.

"We have to play four downs, just like we try to make people play four downs against us."

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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