Citadel can finish strong if Bulldogs cut down on mistakes

Vinny Miller was key in the win over Mercer

Vinny Miller was key in the win over Mercer

By Jeff Hartsell
Nov 4 2014 6:51pm

In the 21 seasons since The Citadel last won the Southern Conference football championship, the Bulldogs have finished with a winning record in the league just three times. Believe it or not, The Citadel can add to that total this season, beginning with Saturday’s homecoming game against Furman.

At 3-6 overall and 1-3 in the SoCon, the Bulldogs need wins in home games against Furman (2-7) and Samford (5-3) and a road victory at VMI (2-8) in order to finish at .500 overall and 4-3 in the SoCon. That would mark the Bulldogs’ sixth non-losing overall record and fourth winning SoCon mark since The Citadel won the SoCon title in 1992.

In a season in which the Bulldogs started 0-3, 1-4 and 2-6, first-year coach Mike Houston would take it, and so would his players. “That would a mean a lot, actually,” said senior quarterback Aaron Miller, who led the Bulldogs to a 28-26 at Mercer last week for their first SoCon win of the season. “It would be very good for Coach Houston and for the program. It would give the team something good to build on for next year, and that’s mainly what it’s about. For us, it’s about competing very day. But what we leave behind when we’re gone is also important.”

To get there, the Bulldogs will have to clean up some of the same mistakes that have plagued them all season, and against Mercer. After sprinting to a 28-10 lead at the half at Mercer, The Citadel helped the Bears get back in the game with some familiar problems – a blown defensive assignment, ill-timed penalties and a costly turnover.

In the end, it took cornerback Dee Delaney’s break-up of a 2-point pass and three clutch first downs in the final minutes to ward off Mercer. “In the first half, we didn’t have many self-inflicted wounds,” Miller said of the opening 30 minutes, when the Bulldogs had 275 rushing yards and scored on four of five possessions. “We had guys going to the right guys on the defense, making extra effort to make their blocks, running backs extending runs, great ball security and not many penalties. We executed really well.” That wasn’t quite the case in the second half. Two false-start penalties derailed a promising drive with The Citadel ahead by 28-13, and cornerback Shy Phillips let a receiver get behind him on a flea-flicker pass that resulted in a 65-yard touchdown bomb to make the score 28-20.

In the fourth quarter, a fumble by fullback Tyler Renew set up Mercer for what might have been a game-tying drive. Defensive end Mitchell Jeter’s sack on third-and-7 looked like it would stop the Bears, but he was tagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for flexing during his celebration, keeping the drive alive. Mercer ended up scoring to make it 28-26 with 3:37 left before Delaney’s game-saving play. “Shy just bit on the run fake on the flea-flicker there, and he was very bothered by that and takes a lot of pride in the way he plays,” Houston said. “Fortunately, it did not cost us the game and so it’s great teachable moment for a young player. That was a big turning point and gave them the opportunity to get back in the game.

“Offensively in the second half, I felt like we stopped ourselves,” Houston said. “A false start, a negative play got us behind the chains, and we missed a very makeable field goal. We did a lot of things to get in our own way in the second half, which we did none of in the first half. And the one turnover was significant, because it came at a very bad time. “But with all that said, we made plays at the end with the momentum dead against us. So we are pleased with that.”

Slotbacks Jake Stenson (leg) and Cam Jackson (hand) are day-to-day for the Furman game, Houston said.

Furman has 15 regulars (players who have started, been in the 2-deep or played on special teams) listed as doubtful or out for Saturday’s game at The Citadel. That does not include starting wide receiver Gary Robinson (ankle) and wildcat QB Terry Robinson (knee), brothers who were injured last year and have missed the entire 2014 season.


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