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Citadel-EKU Preview

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Manning Snyder previews The Citadel's game with Eastern Kentucky.

By Manning Snyder

Overview:

The Citadel Bulldogs will face the Eastern Kentucky Colonels on Saturday in Charleston. The game will be televised at 1pm on ESPN3. The Citadel (0-2) is coming off of a defeat on the road at #1-ranked Clemson, while Eastern Kentucky is fresh off a bye week. The Colonels also lost their first two contests of the season, getting blown out by both Marshall and West Virginia, respectively. The Bulldogs will look to get their first win of 2020, and in this shortened season, it will be vital for The Citadel to continue to gain live-game experience in preparation for the spring SoCon slate. As such, expect The Citadel head coach Brent Thompson to be creative with his play selection and experimental with his lineup (see an example in the “Players to Watch” section). Regardless of how The Citadel performs in the fall, the Bulldogs will likely still be among the favorites to win the SoCon with their offensive weapons and formidable defense.

Why To Watch:

The Citadel is finally playing an FCS opponent in this ever-changing, unorthodox 2020 season. In what could be the lone win of the 2020 fall campaign, the opportunity to play in front of fans (around 3,000) at home will be crucial in the growth and development of The Citadel program. Having also played two strong FBS opponents to start their season, Eastern Kentucky will be looking to score some points. The Colonels could defeat the Bulldogs if The Citadel continues their discipline-less play from the past two weeks, as the Bulldogs have committed 18 total penalties over two games, costing them 138 combined yards. In their triple-option offense, penalties minimize production and cause three-and-outs. Previous games aside, Saturday’s matchup is an opportunity for The Citadel to finally establish some consistency and production offensively. Against Clemson, the Bulldogs only gained 162 yards and 8 first downs (albeit against one of the best defenses in the country). Meanwhile, The Citadel’s defense has been stout (minus the first half against Clemson), and will look to shut down Eastern Kentucky’s offense led by running back Alonzo Booth.

The Citadel Players to Watch:

CB Javonte Middleton - The redshirt-sophomore cornerback made his first career start on Saturday against Clemson and had himself a day.  Middleton was responsible for the only turnover The Citadel forced against the Tigers, a strip and fumble recovery in the third quarter. The Savannah, Georgia, native also added seven tackles (five of them solo). In what will likely be his second career start on Saturday, look for Middleton to have another stellar performance in an attempt to solidify his defensive presence for the Bulldogs.

QB Jaylan Adams - The backup to Citadel starting quarterback Brandon Rainey played well during his limited minutes of action against Clemson. Adams had 50 yards total yards, and picked up timely first downs for the Bulldogs. The speedy 5”10, 165-pound redshirt-sophomore provides more of a running threat than Rainey if a play breaks down, a weapon that Citadel coach Brent Thompson could use sporadically throughout the game simply to mix up the offensive strategy.


Eastern Kentucky Players To Watch

RB Alonzo Booth - The aforementioned 6”1, 250-pound running back averaged over 6.4 yards per carry against West Virginia. Booth, a redshirt-junior, was named to the Preseason All-OVC Team. Last season, Booth ranked 16th in the nation with 14 rushing touchdowns and had 673 yards rushing. Through two games this season, he has 78 yards rushing. In order for the Colonels to unlock their passing game against the Bulldogs, Booth must have a productive start.

DB Josh Hayes - The redshirt-senior defensive back was a 2020 Preseason All-OVC Second-Team selection. Hayes transferred from Purdue after his sophomore season. Through two games this season, Hayes has 9 total tackles. The Indianapolis, Indiana, native had a productive 2019 season, finishing with 41 tackles and 2 interceptions. Hayes leads a Colonel defense that was a liability against both Marshall and West Virginia. He will have a tall task in stopping the Bulldog’s rushing attack, but also preventing long plays from The Citadel wide receivers Raleigh Webb and Ryan McCarthy.


Keys To Game:

As I alluded to earlier in the article, The Citadel must eliminate penalties if they want to secure their first win. If they do, expect The Citadel to do what it does best--run the ball, pick up first downs, and dominate the time of possession. If The Citadel defense plays like it did in the second halves of the USF and Clemson games, Eastern Kentucky is going to have a hard time producing yards. For the Colonels, they will also look to have some consistent drives, as they struggled to score points against West Virginia. The Eastern Kentucky defense is perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the game when comparing both teams. After giving up 59 points (against Marshall), and 56 points (against West Virginia), the Colonels must be more efficient defensively for Eastern Kentucky to have a shot to win.

Manning’s Fun Facts:

- Last week in the Citadel/Clemson game, the score was 49-0 Tigers at halftime. Despite the lopsidedness, The Citadel did not allow the Tigers to score in the second half. With The Citadel losing by 49 points, against ALL odds, the Bulldogs ended up covering the spread (49.5, 50, or 52 points at kickoff, depending on the sportsbook). Sorry, Clemson spread bettors.

- Since 2011, there has not been a Citadel football season in which the average home attendance was below 9,000 fans for the season. On Saturday, due to the coronavirus safety protocols, around 3,000 fans will be allowed to attend the game.

Conclusion:

With both teams coming off of consecutive losses, neither Eastern Kentucky nor The Citadel have established their team “identity” yet. Look for the Bulldogs to rely on their veterans and fine-tune their offense in this FCS matchup. Local Charleston football fans will be happy to see live football one again after what felt like the longest offseason in my twenty years of life.  Enjoy the game, folks, and stay safe.