Citadel’s Mike Houston: The winning is going to come

The Citadel coach Mike Houston was “not real fired up” about last year’s 5-7 record in his first season with the Bulldogs. photo:Paul Zoeller/P&CStaff

The Citadel coach Mike Houston was “not real fired up” about last year’s 5-7 record in his first season with the Bulldogs. photo:Paul Zoeller/P&CStaff

Jeff Hartsell
Sep 1 2015 2:26 pm

Nineteen months after he was hired as The Citadel’s football coach, Mike Houston believes he’s improved the talent and the toughness of the program. “Our talent has improved over what it was when I got here, as a whole,” Houston said Tuesday at the first weekly news conference of his second season as the Bulldogs’ coach. “I think the work ethic and the attitude is maybe a little more hard-nosed and tougher than when I got here, and our style of play is much more physical than when I got here.”

Citadel players agree with their coach’s assessment.
“It’s a lot different, and in a lot of good ways,” said senior offensive lineman Sam Frye. “These coaches push us real hard, and the whole team is a bunch of hard workers now. Everybody is expected to be tough and hard-nosed all the time, 110 percent.”

Now, Citadel coaches and players are eager to see their results match that progress in a way that last year’s 5-7 overall mark (and 3-4 record in the Southern Conference) did not. “Last year was the first losing season I’ve had as a football coach, so I’m not real fired up about it,” said Houston, who posted records of 7-3, 9-3 and 13-2 in three seasons at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne. “And I’m not real patient.“But at the same time, I understand that we are building a program. I thought we made great strides last year … The winning is going to come as long as the players and coaches stick to the plan, and it’s going to come in time and when we start closing out close games like the ones we had last year.”

If Saturday’s season opener against Davidson — a non-scholarship FCS program that went 1-11 last year, including an 0-8 mark in the Pioneer League — is close, then Houston’s plan might not be as far along as he hopes. The real tests begin with the SoCon opener Sept. 12 against Western Carolina. Houston expects more nail-biters like last year’s, when the Bulldogs had six games decided by a touchdown or less, going 3-3 in those games.
“We were close to winning eight games,” he said. “But we were close to winning three games, too … You are going to see the same thing throughout the conference this year. You are going to see us and everybody else in close, tight ball games, and that’s why I keep saying that we need to do the things that good football teams do, and control what we can control. “If we do those two things, with the way we play, we’ll have a chance to win most of our ball games.”

The answers to two major questions will begin to reveal themselves against Davidson — how will new starting quarterback Dominique Allen perform, and how much will the defense improve over last year’s unsatisfying performance?

Houston is confident in both. “Dominique is our starter, and with him being fairly inexperienced, he’s not going to be perfect,” Houston said. “But I think he’s got enough weapons around him to take some of the pressure off him. I’d be surprised if he does not play well Saturday.”
The Citadel’s defense ranked seventh in the SoCon last year in total defense, and seventh in scoring defense.“I feel like we have a group this year that plays with less hesitation,” Houston said. “I hope we see a defense that plays with a lot of speed and aggression, with confidence and attitude. I hope we see something Saturday night that we did not see all last year on that side of the ball.”

Houston said freshman slotback Rod Johnson has been slowed by a hamstring pull in practice and might not play Saturday. Defensive end Travis Johnson and linebacker Russell Hubbs, both backups, also are likely out.

Kevin O’Rourke and former Citadel player Sadath Jean-Pierre will work the game for the ESPN3 broadcast, with Mike Legg, former Bulldog Lee Glaze and Jay Harper on the call for The Citadel Radio Network (1450-AM in Charleston).

Davidson is 1-22 in two seasons under coach Paul Nichols, a former Wildcats quarterback. The lone win was by 56-0 last year against College of Faith, a team the NCAA has ruled does not meet requirements to be a countable opponent in NCAA statistics. Davidson played one SoCon team last year, losing by 52-24 to VMI.


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