Given the accomplished track record of Mike Houston and his coaching staff, it seemed only a matter of time before they turned The Citadel into the same kind of triple-option force they had built at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne
And indeed that time has arrived.
The No. 18-ranked Bulldogs, who open the FCS playoffs Saturday at No. 9/10 Coastal Carolina, enter the postseason ranked second nationally among FCS teams in averaging 344.3 rushing yards per game. They have six players who have rushed for at least 400 yards this season and they just rumbled for 350 yards on the ground in a stunning 23-22 upset win at South Carolina last Saturday.
Which all adds up to one significant obstacle in the Chanticleers’ quest for a national championship.
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“They certainly have grown, that’s for sure,” Coastal Carolina defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin said. “It’s an extremely physical football team, extremely well coached. Schematically they’re still the same [as last season]; they’re just doing it way better than they were a year ago. That’s a tribute to those kids and to the coaching staff. Just look at the game this past Saturday. What a statement.”
The Chants defeated The Citadel 31-16 in the teams’ 2014 season-opener, but that was a long time ago.
The Bulldogs finished 5-7 in Houston’s first season at the helm before improving to 8-3 so far this year as their triple-option attack has taken off – which again is no surprise.
Schematically they’re still the same [as last season]; they’re just doing it way better than they were a year ago. That’s a tribute to those kids and to the coaching staff. Just look at the game this past Saturday. What a statement.
CCU defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin
Before taking over at The Citadel, Houston and offensive coordinator Brent Thompson led Lenoir-Rhyne to the Division II national championship game in 2013 and a 29-8 record over three seasons. In that 2013 season, their offense led all of Division II in rushing at 370.9 yards per game and set an NCAA record for all divisions with 5,563 yards on the ground.
That was the blueprint they hoped to create at The Citadel as Houston brought Thompson along with him when he got hired.
Their emphasis offensively, Houston explained, is simple.
“They’ve got to be physical at the point of contact. We have to be a downhill football team – we’re not a finesse team. And if you want to run this offense well, you can’t be,” he said this week. “So [it’s about] just developing that mentality in the players and having an unselfish attitude.”
The Bulldogs indeed seem to be checking all those boxes. Sophomore quarterback Dominique Allen leads the team with 717 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, but it’s truly a committee attack as junior B-back Tyler Renew (652 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns), sophomore quarterback Cam Jackson (625-5), sophomore B-back Isiaha Smith (523-7), redshirt-freshman B-back Evan McField (416-3) and senior A-back Vinny Miller (415-1) have all made a significant impact in the ground game.
Renew (174 rushing yards, two touchdowns) and Jackson (106-1) led the way in that momentous win over the Gamecocks.
“That’s why people run that triple option, because it’s a hard offense to stop,” Chants junior linebacker Alex Scearce said. “We’ve seen the triple option this year already, and I think we did pretty well against it. I think this team is probably just a little bigger and more physical than the new program at Kennesaw State and they’re going to run the ball a little more between the tackles. So I think it’s going to be a challenge this week to make sure we can hold them and stop them between the tackles.”
There’s no doubt about that.
Coastal Carolina has lost two of the last three seasons to Charleston Southern and its hybrid version of the triple option as the Buccaneers operate out of a shotgun formation unlike traditional option attacks.
The Chants also beat a Kennesaw State team that ranks fifth in the FCS in rushing with the triple option, but the Owls are in their first season of football and not quite the same challenge the Bulldogs will present Saturday at Brooks Stadium.
But the Chants nonetheless know what to expect, and they feel they’re ready for it.
“We just have to do our jobs, know our assignments – all 11 guys on the field – and I feel we’ll be ready to go,” senior defensive end Roderick Holder said. “Our coaches put us in position to make plays so we’re just going to go 100 percent every play. ...
“Us playing Kennesaw State and Charleston Southern all the time, we’ve got a lot of experience going up against the triple option so I feel it’s to our advantage actually.”
NCAA FCS Playoffs
Who | No. 18 The Citadel at No. 9/10 Coastal Carolina
Where | Brooks Stadium, Conway
When | 2 p.m. Saturday
Radio | WSEA-FM 100.3