For players and coaches, the concept of a "must-win" game can be a little strange, especially in the second week of the football season.
After all, they've got to play all 11 (or 12) games on the schedule whether they win the "must-win" game or not.
"For us, they are all must-win games," Citadel fullback Lorenzo Ward said this week.
But the stark reality for the Bulldogs remains — if they want to compete for a Southern Conference championship and an FCS playoff berth this season, Saturday's home opener against Chattanooga is as close to a must-win game as it can get.
With two SoCon games to open the season, the Bulldogs already are 0-1 in the league after last week's 28-21 loss to No. 10-ranked Wofford. An 0-2 start would likely require the Bulldogs to win out in the SoCon for any shot at the league title. Only twice in the last 10 years, in 2012 and 2013, has a two-loss team won or shared the championship.
"I'm not gonna put any more undue pressure on us that it is a must-win," said Citadel coach Brent Thompson, whose team won SoCon titles in 2015 and 2016. "But we do view it that, if we want to make a run at this thing, we've gotta get this one."
Here are four keys for Saturday's 6 p.m. game at Johnson Hagood Stadium:
Few teams in the SoCon defend The Citadel's triple-option better than Wofford, which runs a similar scheme. But the Bulldogs' performance last week was particularly bad. The Citadel averaged just 3.9 yards per rush, hit 1 of 11 passes, converted 2 of 16 third downs and had a long scoring drive of just 29 yards.
"Yes," Thompson answered when asked which part of the offense must perform better this week. In particular, quarterback Jordan Black must improve in running the option to get the ball on the corner, and in the passing game. Last year, the Bulldogs ran for 405 yards in a 20-14 win at Chattanooga, with explosive runs of 45, 54, 32 and 43 yards.
The Citadel's best offense against Wofford last week was a Terriers' pass, as interceptions by Bulldog linebacker Noah Dawkins led to two touchdowns. That's not likely to be the case against Chattanooga, which has 6-5 junior Nick Tiano, a transfer from Mississippi State, at quarterback.
Tiano, who replaced suspended starter Cole Copeland, hit 21 of 32 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in last week's 34-10 win over Tennessee Tech. The Citadel's young secondary must handle sophomore receiver Bryce Nunnelly, who caught 7 balls for 161 yards and a TD.
The Mocs, in their second season under coach Tom Arth, have at least 29 transfers on the roster, with 15 on the two-deep and eight listed as starters. Running back Tyrell Price, from East Mississippi Community College, already has proven himself a dangerous playmaker with 98 rushing yards and 5 catches against Tennessee Tech.
The Mocs' offensive line includes three transfers, among them 6-5, 290-pound tackle Harrison Moon from Mississippi State (and then there's towering tackle Malcolm White at 6-7 and 315 pounds). All-SoCon safety Kareem Orr began his career at Arizona State.
Beer will flow
Saturday's game marks the first time Citadel cadets will (legally) be able to buy beer during a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Cadets of legal age (21 and over) will be able to buy up to three 12-ounce cans as The Citadel has overhauled its plan for selling alcohol at the stadium.
How will this impact The Citadel's home-field advantage, particularly at the end of the field in front of the Corps of Cadets? We will see.
The Citadel, 24-21