When Brent Thompson was coaching at Lenoir-Rhyne, he made the drive from Hickory, N.C., to Spartanburg to consult with Wofford coach Mike Ayers and his veteran offensive coordinator, triple-option guru Wade Lang.
“We wanted to talk to them about their offense and the way they ran their program,” said Thompson, now the head coach at The Citadel. “We figured we’d model ourselves on what they did at Wofford — very fundamental, very physical. We had to do things a little differently at L-R, with a high academic kid, and that’s what they do there. They really helped us out a lot.”
No surprise, then, that Thompson’s Citadel team — 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in the FCS Coaches Poll this season — bears more than a passing (or rushing) resemblance to the Wofford team the Bulldogs will face at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Spartanburg.
A glance at Southern Conference statistics confirms the impression. The Citadel is No. 1 in rushing offense, Wofford No. 2. The Terriers lead in rushing defense, just head of the Bulldogs. And they both like to play keep-away with each team averaging almost 36 minutes per game in time of possession.
“There are a lot of similarities there,” Thompson said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “They do a lot more out of the shotgun than we do on offense, but a lot of the basic premises are the same. Their defense is a little different than ours, but there are a lot of similarities there, too.”
That means there aren’t likely to be many surprises between the two coaching staffs on Saturday.
“They know what our weaknesses are,” Thompson said. “So it’s a matter of if you can adjust. This game will be more about adjustments than anything else. They know what their adjustments are to our schemes, just as we do, on both sides of the ball. Two years ago when we went up there, it was a game of trying to stay one step ahead of the opponent. It became very difficult at times.”
Wofford won its 16th in a row over The Citadel with a 17-13 victory two years ago at Gibbs Stadium. But the Bulldogs snapped that streak with a 39-12 win last year at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
We went down there in ’15 and we played bad, and they punished us. They flat punished us,” Ayers told reporters Monday. “They’re very well-coached. Every game I’ve watched, they haven’t had a lull in their play. They’re very consistent in their psychological makeup, and they’re very consistent in the X’s and the O’s and the physical part of the game. This team is undefeated. Say no more.”
This year’s Wofford team is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Southern Conference, with a 28-26 loss to league foe Samford. The Terriers have beaten ETSU (31-0) and Western Carolina (31-19).
Wofford lost quarterback Evan Jacks to a knee injury in preseason camp, then saw junior Brad Butler go down with a knee injury after starting the first four games. Brandon Goodson, a 6-0, 205-pound junior, has started the last two games and has rushed for just 37 yards in six games.
The Terriers’ main threat on the ground is senior fullback Lorenzo Long (5-9, 205), who is averaging 112.8 yards per game with nine touchdowns. Slotback Will Gay has 282 yards on 40 carries, good for 7.1 yards per attempt.
On defense, Wofford has pitched shutouts against Johnson C. Smith and ETSU, and leads the SoCon in rushing defense (50.3 yards per game) and is second in scoring defense (15.3 ppg). Sophomore JoJo Tillery leads the Terriers with 34 tackles, and defensive end Tyler Vaughn (6-1, 270) has a team-best six tackles for loss.
“Wofford is a very fundamental team,” Thompson said. “They don’t take very many missteps on defense, and on offense they find a way to move the ball on everybody, year-in and year-out.”
• A victory Saturday would make The Citadel 7-0 for the first time in school history. The 1992 team also started the season 6-0.
• Ranked No. 6 in this week’s FCS Coaches Poll, the Bulldogs have been ranked for 13 straight weeks, the second-longest streak in school history. The Citadel was ranked for 15 straight weeks in 1992-93.