The coveted Silver Shako has spent much of the week on the sideline of The Citadel's practice field, where it was in full view of the Bulldogs as they ran through their paces.
"That's how important it is to us," coach Brent Thompson said of the Shako, the trophy that goes to the winner of the annual Military Classic of the South battle between The Citadel and VMI. "We made a special place for it in the lobby, and we're proud of that, and we want to maintain control of it."
The Silver Shako (not "Shacko", as one ESPN talking head put it this week) is on the line again Saturday when The Citadel plays at VMI in the 74th meeting between the military schools. And given the teams' combined record of 1-10, it's likely the only trophy either team will be competing for this season.
"It's going to make (VMI's) season if they win it," said Thompson, whose team is 1-4 overall and 1-3 in the Southern Conference. "I understand that; I've seen the T-shirts they have and the pictures of the trophy they've put up."
VMI coach Scott Wachenheim, whose team is 0-6 overall and 0-5 in the SoCon, has tweeted out "Beat The Citadel" every day this week, sometimes in different languages.
"We're looking for our first Silver Shako in 16 years," Wachenheim said in a radio interview this week. "Our kids are fired up. They know how special this game is, and they know what a life-changing victory this would be."
A win would change a lot of things for VMI, which is 5-34 in Wachenheim's four seasons. The Keydets have lost 23 straight games, including 19 in a row in SoCon play, and haven't won since a 37-7 victory over East Tennessee State on Oct. 8, 2016.
Good day mate. Beat The Citadel! #10TD👣— Scott Wachenheim (@CoachSWach) October 16, 2018
Here are four keys to Saturday's game:
Wachenheim, who played option football as an offensive lineman at Air Force, brought in offensive coordinator Brian Sheppard from Northern Arizona to install an Air Raid offense. The Keydets are averaging 60 passes, 327 passing yards and 25.2 points per game.
Sophomore QB Reese Udinski has thrown 11 touchdown passes, but also 10 interceptions. And a remarkable 17 VMI players have caught passes, led by sophomore Kris Thornton with 45 receptions.
"They want to be a throwing team, similar to Samford, and they are very efficient," Thompson said. "The quarterback gets the ball out of his hands very quickly, so it will be tough to get to him. We've got to balance applying pressure with coverage in the back end without giving up too much in the run game."
VMI's main problem has been the defense, which allows 54.2 points and 573 yards per game. The Keydets scored 50 points against Western Carolina and 38 against Mercer and lost both games.
The Citadel ran for 203 yards and passed for 188 in last week's 26-23 loss to East Tennessee State, but should be able to run the ball more effectively against the Keydets, who are allowing 281.2 rushing yards per game.
Corps of Cadets
The Citadel is busing most of its freshman class to VMI for the game, a trip of about seven hours. There should be between 500 and 600 knobs representing The Citadel.
VMI will counter with its entire Corps of Cadets, about 1,600 strong. VMI's last home win in the series was in 2000, a 41-21 victory.
On ESPN this week, Mark May predicted that The Citadel would win by 27-17, while Lou Holtz (who was 2-1 against The Citadel in his career) picked VMI by 34-28.
The Citadel 40, VMI 28