A telling photo from The Citadel's visit to Towson last season shows Tigers quarterback Tom Flacco leaping over Bulldog defenders in a single bound.
Flacco wasn't quite Superman in Towson's 44-27 trouncing of The Citadel last season, but he did a pretty fair impression.
Flacco, the younger brother of NFL veteran QB Joe Flacco now of the Denver Broncos, torched The Citadel's defense for 253 passing yards and two touchdowns, and 185 rushing yards and two more scores.
That's 438 yards and four scores from one player, the most impressive display by a single player against the Bulldogs last season. Those were better numbers than those posted against The Citadel by Heisman Trophy candidate Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama or Samford QB Devlin Hodges, who won the FCS version of the Heisman.
"To be honest, I'm not sure we had a great plan for him," an understated Citadel coach Brent Thompson said this week of Flacco, who leads 12th-ranked Towson into Johnson Hagood Stadium for both teams' season opener at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The Citadel is offering free tickets to people from Florida who are evacuating due to Hurricane Dorian. The military college says evacuees can simply present a Florida state ID at the box office for two free tickets.
The task of making sure Flacco doesn't take flight again falls to new Citadel defensive coordinator Tony Grantham, who has watched tape of that Towson game more than once.
"He's one of the top players in the country, obviously," Grantham said of the 6-1, 205-pound senior who began his college career at Western Michigan before moving to Rutgers and then Towson. "He puts you in a bind as a passer and making plays running the football when things break down.
"He's going to make you defend the whole field, and we've got our work cut out with him."
Flacco broke free for runs of 57 and 78 yards and was not sacked as he broke containment time and again against the Bulldogs' pass rush.
"Some of it was the way he improvises and makes things happen, and you can't manufacture those things in practice," Grantham said. "You've got to be disciplined in what your assignments are, execute the defense throughout the play and understand that when things break down, guys have responsibilities and they have to keep doing their job."
Flacco is not a one-man show. Senior running back Shane Simpson is a threat out of the backfield and as a kick returner, and wideouts Shane Leatherbury and 6-4 Jabari Allen combined for 120 catches last season.
One major difference for The Citadel is quarterback Brandon Rainey, who was on the sideline as a backup when the Bulldogs faced Towson in Game 4 last season. Rainey, who averaged 132.2 yards rushing while starting the final four games last season, should give the Bulldogs an additional weapon against Towson.
The Citadel rushed for 341 yards (180 from fullback Lorenzo Ward), but fell behind by 21-3 right off the jump. The Bulldogs hit just 3 of 16 passes for 63 yards and one interception.
"We got behind last year and had to throw more than we would have in a normal game," said Thompson, whose team posted a second straight 5-6 record last season. "We did rush for more than 300 yards, but it needs to happen early for us this year. We can't afford to hunt and peck around."
If The Citadel can stay close to Towson through the first half, the odds might turn in the Bulldogs' favor. The Citadel outscored its final three FCS opponents by 69-3 in the second half in 2018.
Towson won six of its first seven games last season before dropping four of its last five, three of those to ranked FCS teams. The Tigers were picked second in the Colonial Athletic Association this season behind CAA power James Madison.
“Last year we set the finish line too short, and it was obvious,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “They wanted to win, they wanted to get respect, they wanted to beat national competition, and we did. But we got to the playoffs and were like ‘All right, we did it.’ No, that was just the beginning.”