As though leading The Citadel out in his first game as head coach was not enough, Brent Thompson earned a 24-23 victory over Southern Conference opponent Mercer with a first-time starting quarterback.
Jordan Black, a redshirt freshman quarterback playing his first live collegiate game last week, moved the Bulldogs’ offense with ease in the first quarter as The Citadel jumped out to an early 21-10 advantage. After that, Black and the team’s offensive attack stumbled through nearly three entire quarters before scoring again. That drought, though, led to perhaps the most impressive aspect of Black’s performance all night.
Black captained a long drive with the game’s outcome hanging in the balance. The Citadel trailed 23-21 with the clock ticking. The Bulldogs proceeded to move the ball close enough for kicker Cody Clark to drill a 35-yard field goal, which secured the win for Black and his teammates on Saturday.
“What [Black] did well was he took care of the football, he ran that huddle, he got the ball where it was supposed to be, he made great checks in there and the most surprising thing that I thought he did was completed balls,” Thompson said at Tuesday’s press conference. “We were 6-of-9 on the day and had a couple of third down conversions. And especially to have the composure there to put together a seven, eight-minute drive at the end of the game to win the football game, that’s not easy to do. The moment wasn’t too big for him, and that’s what he brings to the table. He’s very calm.”
At one point during The Citadel’s mid-game offensive lull, Thompson — who was coaching his first game on the sidelines after observing from the booth last year — looked to his offensive unit to analyze the demeanor of everyone in the group. Thompson felt the team needed a boost, and the rookie head coach provided just that.
“I turned over and said we need to get up and get behind these guys,” Thompson said. “That’s what they did, they got up and got behind these guys, and the next thing you know we started to get more stops. I felt us fall into a little bit of a lull right there, and I sensed it slipping away from us at one point. I think we were still up 21-20 at the time. But really there was a lot of resolve in that group, and I didn’t realize that.”
Citadel running back Tyler Renew recalled a scenario from Week 1 in which a member of the Bears remarked on his team’s surplus of speed. Thompson knows the Bulldogs will need every ounce of the physical leverage they established against Mercer — and then some — if they hope to topple a stingy Furman squad.
“I watched the Michigan State game,” Thompson said. “They (Furman) played a tough BCS opponent. It’s not surprising — they went down and they beat Central Florida last year. They had been in that environment. They played FBS schools in the past, and they played them very tight, took them into the fourth quarter. They are also playing really well on defense.”
In addition to its status as the second conference game in as many weeks for The Citadel, the Mercer game also marks another chance for the Bulldogs to best a longstanding rival. Thompson says alumni will often return to campus in order to tell current cadets about the fierce matchup.
Thompson’s take is the one that counts. Here’s what he had to say about Furman:
“They’ve changed their offense just a little bit. They are a little bit more of a Furman of old, a little bit of more of a downhill running team. They are doing more out of the pistol than out of split backs. And they’ve got a freshman running back that’s pretty quick.”
Thompson identified quarterback P.J. Blazejowski as a player capable of burning The Citadel’s defense if he gets into a rhythm. Wide receiver Andrej Suttles also drew praise from the Bulldogs’ headman.
As far as who is scheduled to start this Saturday for Citadel, Black is the first name on the depth chart, but right next to him is a large ‘OR’ before the name Dominique Allen appears. Allen started 13 games for Citadel last year but has been injured for quite some time. A final decision on the starter is not expected to come until late in the week.
“We are going to go in and kind of split the reps this week,” Thompson said. “We will see how it goes. Really, Dominique Allen has only taken about 40 or 50 reps all camp. He’s gotta shake the rust off of him a little bit. He could be ready by the end of the week.”
Thompson says he does not believe in rotating quarterbacks throughout a game, so whoever takes the first snap is likely to take the last for the Bulldogs on Saturday against Furman.