A return to the FCS level will mean a lot for two teams that meet for the first time
Eastern Kentucky and The Citadel are smarting from FBS losses to open the season — Eastern Kentucky by a combined 115-10 to Marshall and West Virginia and The Citadel 76-6 to South Florida and Clemson.
They surely are glad to get back to FCS competition in their first-time meeting Saturday in Charleston, South Carolina. The Bulldogs from the Southern Conference are playing their only fall home game on the new turf at Johnson Hagood Stadium, but the visitors from the Ohio Valley Conference also have an advantage with two weeks of preparation due to a bye last weekend.
Eastern Kentucky at The Citadel
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. ET
Line: The Citadel -10
When Eastern Kentucky Has the Ball
First-year coach Walt Wells' background is as an offensive line coach, so the desire is strong to get the Colonels' run game, which is averaging only 80.5 yards on 2.6 yards per carry, revved up. Top rusher Alonzo Booth (6-foot-1, 250 pounds) has impressive size and good history with finding the end zone. One positive is the Colonels haven't lost a fumble this season.
Quarterback Parker McKinney's mobility and toughness were on display against West Virginia, and he led a nice scoring drive in the second quarter, capped by a 28-yard touchdown pass to No. 1 wide receiver Keyion Dixon. It's imperative for the Colonels to convert more on third downs because their average time of possession is under 25 minutes. They'll face one of the better linebackers in the FCS in The Citadel senior Willie Eubanks III.
When The Citadel Has the Ball
The Citadel tends to control the game clock with its triple-option offense, and the preseason No. 21 squad didn't deviate from what it prefers to do after falling hopelessly behind No. 1 Clemson, finishing with 48 carries out of 59 offensive plays. While Eastern Kentucky has struggled to defend the run against FBS foes, the Colonels ranked in the top 15 of run defense among FCS teams a year ago.
The Bulldogs' offensive sloppiness, including penalties and turnovers, has not been to head coach Brent Thompson's liking. Senior quarterback Brandon Rainey, who is 19 rushing yards shy of 2,000 in his career, figures to keep the ball often, although the return of fullbacks Logan Braucht and Clay Harris from injuries will bolster a backfield that's led by Keefe White's 61 yards. Versatile wide receiver Raleigh Webb can make plays as a receiver, runner, or passer.
This is one of the more competitive matchups of the shortened FCS fall season. Both teams should be more efficient in returning to opposition that has more accustomed levels of size and speed. Eastern Kentucky will have to prove it can stop The Citadel's run game.
Prediction: The Citadel 24, Eastern Kentucky 17
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Cameron Pollack/The Citadel Athletics)