Imagine a scout team that’s good enough to rack up 37 points and 437 rushing yards per game, ranking second in the Southern Conference in both categories.
Due to a quirk in SoCon scheduling, that’s what The Citadel’s football foes are getting during a three-week stretch of games.
Citadel opponents Samford, Western Carolina and Wofford all face seventh-ranked Georgia Southern and its powerful triple-option offense immediately prior to playing The Citadel and its virtually identical flexbone attack.
Do defenses fare better the second time around against the option?
Two weeks ago, Samford gave up 360 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 35-16 loss to Georgia Southern. On Saturday, that same Samford defense shut down The Citadel’s option to the tune of 221 rushing yards in a 38-7 win.
Samford coach Pat Sullivan admitted his defenders were better prepared for The Citadel after seeing the Eagles’ speedier, more powerful version of the option.
“Pat said their Tuesday practice was much different for us than it was the previous week, after going through Georgia Southern,” Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said Monday at his weekly news conference. “They’ve seen it once already, so there are no surprises there.”
The Citadel’s foe this week, Western Carolina, got steamrolled by Georgia Southern’s option last week, giving up 614 rushing yards in a 45-13 loss. Three different Eagles rushed for at least 100 yards, and GSU tried only four passes in the game.
“Defensively, we got wore down,” WCU coach Mark Speir said after that game. “Guys started doing things trying to make plays, and it only ended up making it worse ... Our guys have got to learn to fight for four quarters. Until we do that, we’re not going to turn the corner on becoming a good football team.”
Surely, Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4) will be better prepared for Saturday’s Parents Day game at The Citadel (3-3, 2-2) after seeing GSU.
On the other hand, Citadel coaches will get a good look on tape at how Western Carolina attempted to defend the option.
“It’s hard for a team to come up with a brand new scheme in three days’ practice,” Higgins said. “So the good news is, we’ll know how they are going to line up. Now we just have to go out and execute.”
That’s easier said than done, as three straight Citadel losses show. In a 52-28 win at Appalachian State on Sept. 15, the Bulldogs piled up 618 total yards, 463 on the ground.
In two SoCon losses since, the Bulldogs have averaged 8.5 points, 330 total yards and 226 rushing yards.
Higgins credited Chattanooga and Samford for being ready for the option, but said his own team has not executed well the last two weeks against teams focused on stopping the run.
“Samford did the same thing on defense against us as they did against Georgia Southern,” he said. “Are the safeties closer against us? Yes, but they are closer against Wofford and Georgia Southern, as well.
“When our quarterback broke a run for 10 yards, (Georgia Southern’s) broke his for 57. When our fullback got an 8 or 9-yard run, theirs turned out to be 60 … It sounds simple, but we just need to do a better job executing. And when you have a chance to hit some long passes, you have to do that, too.”
Citadel QBs Ben Dupree and Aaron Miller went 8 of 19 for 83 yards against Samford, and Higgins said he counted six dropped passes in the game.
“Some of those would have been tough catches,” he said. “But we’ve got to make those plays.”
The Citadel lost another starting linebacker for the season when sophomore Rah Muhammad broke a bone in his lower leg at Samford. He joins top tackler Carl Robinson (torn ACL) on the sideline … The Bulldogs dropped out of both the FCS coaches poll and The Sports Network media poll released Monday. They had been ranked No. 22 by the coaches and No. 19 by TSN.