Citadel looks to correct last year's mistakes

UTC defensive back Brandon Dowdell (17) breaks out ahead of Citadel's Gage Russell (93) during the Mocs' home football game against the Citadel Bulldogs at Finley Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

A year after one of the best seasons in program history, The Citadel came back down to earth in 2017.

It was the wake-up call they needed headed into this year.

The Bulldogs claimed a share of the 2015 Southern Conference championship before winning it outright a season later. Last year, they won their first three games before losing six of their last eight.

The Citadel

2017 record: 5-6, 3-4 in SoCon Season opener: Sept. 1 at Wofford Date against UTC: Sept. 8 in Charleston, S.C., 6 p.m. Coming Thursday: East Tennessee State

Although they still led the league in rushing and finished second in the country with 294.6 yards per game, the Bulldogs finished last in the SoCon and 119th in the Football Championship Subdivision in red-zone scoring, with 21 touchdowns and four field goals in 41 trips inside an opponents' 20-yard line.

In the Western Carolina game alone, the Bulldogs had five turnovers, four inside Catamount territory including a pair of interceptions in the end zone and a fumble while going in for a score. In addition, there was a false start penalty on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line that led to a field goal.

Had the Citadel scored a touchdown, they would have led 14-10. Instead, they settled for a field goal in an eventual 31-19 loss.

"Last year did humble us in a lot of ways," third-year Citadel head coach Brent Thompson said Tuesday while on his way to the South Carolina Coaches for Charity event in Greenville, S.C. "It brought us back to 2014 when we first arrived as a staff. What we realized in 2017 was, no matter what we do, we are who we are. We're still the Citadel and we've got to find a way to play really, really good defense; stop the run; and we've gotta run the football and be physical. We got away from a lot of those things last year and that's really reflective upon me. I've got to do a better job coaching it; I've got to do a better job preaching it.

"We didn't play well fundamentally. We didn't take care of the football; we didn't convert. We were not good in the red zone on either side of the ball. Those things - at the Citadel especially - will add up to a losing year."

Part of the issue was a young offensive line. That's something they're not entering this season, with all five starters back. Jordan Black, who was 3-0 as a starter in 2016, takes over for Dominique Allen at quarterback. All of the skill-position players return as well, as do six starters on the defensive side.

Everything is in place for the Bulldogs to mirror the team from two years ago as opposed to the 5-6 product from last year.

"We're back to being a hungry football team, which is where we've got to be," Thompson said. "We spent two years on top and got a little complacent, but we had a great spring and addressed all of our concerns.

"We've had seven really good weeks of work and we're ready to prepare for the season."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.