Citadel football still plagued by self-inflicted mistakes

Isiaha Smith's fumble at WCU was just one dagger that killed a possible win.   Photo by Russ Pace, The Citadel

Isiaha Smith’s fumble at WCU was just one dagger that killed a possible win. Photo by Russ Pace, The Citadel

by: Jeff Hartsell The Charleston Post & Courier
Oct 28 2014 5:13 pm Oct 28 6:07 pm

Next Game
WHO: The Citadel (2-6, 0-3) at Mercer (5-4, 1-4)
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Mercer Stadium, Macon, Ga.
RADIO: 1450-AM
TV: ESPN3

In The Citadel’s season-opening loss to Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, self-inflicted mistakes – namely, fumbles and penalties – prevented the Bulldogs from having a real chance to win, and they lost by two touchdowns. Eight weeks later, the same sort of mistakes again prevented the Bulldogs from having a real chance to win, and they lost by two touchdowns at Western Carolina.

That the 2-6 Bulldogs have not solved those problems at this late date in the season is particularly frustrating for coach Mike Houston, who is still seeking his first Southern Conference win as The Citadel (0-3 in the league) plays at newcomer Mercer (5-4, 1-4) on Saturday. “Saturday’s game was frustrating, because it goes back to what I said at the beginning of the season,” said Houston, whose Bulldogs had four turnovers and six penalties in Saturday’s 29-15 loss at Western Carolina. “And that is that we can win our share of games as long as we do what good football teams do. “Late in the year, good football teams take care of the football, don’t have penalties on critical downs and play good, fundamentally sound defense. And although we did some good things Saturday, we didn’t do those things that we needed to.”

The Bulldogs lost three fumbles against WCU – all three inside the Catamounts 32-yard line, and one at the goal line – and had two false-start penalties in fourth-and-short situations that they were prepared to go for. The Citadel punted both times, including in the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs trailed by just 21-15 with 5:29 to play. Six plays after that punt, WCU scored the clinching TD. Fumbles (22 on the season, eight lost) and penalties (46, tied for third-most in the SoCon) also hurt the Bulldogs in a 20-18 loss at Charleston Southern in the third week of the season.
“We start drives fairly well, and then a penalty sets us back, or ball security,” said quarterback Aaron Miller. “We just have to be more consistent and finish off these drives.”
Houston discussed those very issues with his staff Tuesday morning. “This late in the year, typically my teams have not done those kinds of things, and that’s the frustrating thing,” said Houston, who was 29-8 in three seasons at Lenoir-Rhyne before coming to The Citadel. “It’s not for lack of effort; the kids are giving very good effort. All three of our fumbles on Saturday were from players who are playing for the first time this season. But still, we’ve played almost an entire season now and we’ve got to do a better job with ball security.”

Sophomore fullback Tyler Renew, a first-year starter, lost a fumble at the WCU 29 on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the game, thwarting a promising 10-play drive. Freshman fullback Isiaha Smith was stripped of the ball at the 1-yard line after a 53-yard run, spoiling what would have been a TD and a 15-7 Citadel lead in the second quarter. And redshirt freshman slotback Cam Jackson lost a fumble at the WCU 32, stopping a 14-play drive in the third quarter. The Catamounts scored four plays later for a 21-8 lead.

The turnovers, including Miller’s first interception of the season, spoiled what was otherwise a respectable offensive performance, as the Bulldogs piled up 360 rushing yards and 443 total, keeping the ball for 34 minutes. “I felt like we controlled the line of scrimmage offensively and moved the ball very effectively,” Houston said. “We had some breakdowns in the red zone that took away good scoring opportunities against a good football team that is playing with a lot of confidence.”

The breakdowns weren’t limited to offense. The Catamounts scored on runs of 24, 38 and 20 yards when running backs Detrez Newsome and Darius Ramsey were basically untouched.
“We gave up a couple of runs where guys tried to do too much and play outside the scheme,” Houston said. “These are things that we have to correct and that we can correct. All these things are in our control, and if we correct those things, we might be talking about a two-score win (against Western Carolina).”

Saturday’s game at Mercer will be shown on ESPN3 and thus will not be on the SoCon Digital Network.

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