The Citadel sacks Gardner-Webb, 37-14, for Mike Houston’s first win

Jeff Hartsell postandcourier.com
Sep 28 12:57 a.m.

During an 0-3 start – and the first three-game losing streak of his coaching career – Citadel coach Mike Houston kept preaching the same sermon to his Bulldogs. “He kept telling us, ‘It’s gonna break, it’s gonna break,'” said Citadel linebacker Tevin Floyd. “And he said, ‘When it breaks, it’s gonna break big.'” It broke big on Saturday night, as The Citadel piled up 509 yards and a school-record 10 sacks in a 37-14 rout of Big South foe Gardner-Webb before 8,573 fans at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

Quarterback Aaron Miller ran for 91 yards and three touchdowns and passed for a career-high 186 yards as The Citadel won for the first time under first-year coach Houston, improving to 1-3 heading into next week’s Southern Conference opener at Wofford.”This week, there was a different energy, a different vibe in practice,” said Houston, whose team lost by 20-18 at Charleston Southern last week. “That was surprising, coming out of a loss. But there was confidence out there … I told them, you’ve got too much momentum, you are doing too many things right. “At some point, it was going to go our way. And when it goes our way, sometimes it can be suffocating for the opponent.”

Suffocating is the right word. Gardner-Webb, which racked up 358 yards (126 rushing) in a 43-36 win over Wofford last week, was held to minus-2 yards rushing by The Citadel. Four Bulldogs – linebacker Tevin Floyd and linemen Mark Thomas, Mitchell Jeter and Justin Oxendine – had at least two sacks each. Gardner-Webb quarterback Lucas Beatty hit 29 of 35 passes for 280 yards, and All-America receiver Kenny Cook caught nine passes for 103 yards and a TD. But after Beatty’s 1-yard TD pass to Cook for a 14-13 early in the third quarter, The Citadel stepped on Gardner-Webb with 24 straight points to end the game.
“It was the best feeling you could ever have as a defense,” said Jeter, who led The Citadel with 2½ sacks. “Their quarterback is an amazing one, and the only way to get at him, to get him out of his comfort zone, was to put pressure on him, and that’s what we did.”

Citadel offensive coordinator Brent Thompson threw a changeup at Gardner-Webb (2-3), opening the game with Miller throwing the ball. The senior quarterback had completed only 20 percent of his throws in the first two games, but on the Bulldogs’ first possession he hit Cam Jackson for 19 yards and Rudder Brown for 47. That set up the first of Miller’s three TD runs, and sent a message to the Gardner-Webb defense. Miller hit 8 of 15 passes for a career-high 186 yards and wasn’t sacked once. Six different receivers caught passes, led by Brown and Jackson with two each.

“We thought that with the way their secondary played in run support, they’d make themselves a little susceptible to the pass,” Houston said. “We had a few wrinkles, a few checks at the line for Aaron, and he did a good job delivering the ball. And we caught the ball, which we had been a little suspect at.” The success throwing the ball opened up the run game, which produced 323 yards. Slotback Jake Stenson averaged 12.8 yards per carry for 77 yards, while fullback Isiaha Smith gained 58 yards and Jackson had 57. The Bulldogs averaged an astounding 7.0 yards per play on 73 plays.

“We had faith in Coach Houston, and he told us the it was going to break and the conditioning and aggressiveness is going to pay off,” Miller said. “And it paid off tonight. We had to get them off our running game, and we’ve been missing passes. We had to make some throws and catches, and the offensive line protected very well.”

The Citadel led by 13-7 at the half and by 19-14 when the defense forced its first turnover of the season, a strip-sack by linebacker Carson Smith. That set up Miller’s second TD, on a 1-yard run, and broke the game open at 27-14. Eric Goins kicked field goals of 28, 32 and 24 yards for The Citadel.

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