The Citadel’s transition to the triple-option offense back in November 2009 didn’t produce results overnight.
In fact, it was downright ugly in year one.
The anemic offense in 2010 didn’t catch head coach Kevin Higgins by surprise, though. He was warned there would be growing pains, and that warning came from a credible source.
Former Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry visited with Higgins two years ago, and DeBerry ended up looking like a prophet.
“Really, what he said has taken place thus far,” Higgins told the Associated Press. “We struggled year one. Year two we made great strides. We feel this year, our guys will execute much better, and I think we’ll be a much more potent offense because of that.”
Higgins, a long-time proponent of the spread offense, switched to the option in 2010 because it better fit the small military academy in Charleston, S.C. The scheme is preferred by most military academies, which ordinarily can’t recruit big, fast linemen and tall, strong-armed quarterbacks.
It takes patience, but when run correctly, the system can produce long, methodical drives, or, like in the Bulldogs’ 52-28 win at Appalachian State, it can be a big-play machine.
“That’s the one thing about this offense,” Higgins said. “If you stay with it, you always have a chance to bust one here and there. When you do that, you get a little bit more momentum. ... When you throw a ball 40 yards down the field, I’m not sure that’s a momentum changer. But when you break one for 40 yards, that puts a different type of fear into you.”
The Citadel limped to a 3-8 finish in 2010 but made vast improvements in year two — finishing as the third best running team in the Football Championship Subdivision (286.6 ypg) — though its 4-7 record didn’t quite show it.
The Bulldogs have made an even bigger leap so far this season, both in terms of rushing yardage (327.2 ypg) and wins, and junior quarterback Ben Dupree has been the trigger man.
The 5-9, 185-pound signal caller might not have ideal physical dimensions for the Football Bowl Subdivision, or even most pass-oriented FCS teams, but the Harrisburg, Pa., native fits right in with the Bulldogs.
In his third year with the program, Dupree has guided the Citadel to a 4-1 start, racking up 350 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the process. He ran for 180 yards and two scores against the Mountaineers.
“I never though I’d see a Citadel player out-running App State players,” Higgins told the Charleston Post and Courier. “But that’s what Ben did.”
Just like the team’s offensive transition, though, Dupree’s time in Charleston hasn’t always been rosy. After winning the starting job as a freshman in camp, Dupree was pulled in favor of Matt Thompson in the Bulldogs’ 2010 season opener.
“That was definitely frustrating,” Dupree told the Post and Courier. “But I brought it on myself. I stunk up the joint, and Matt did his thing. I was highly disappointed in myself.”
Dupree is still splitting time under center, now with teammate Aaron Miller, a 6-0, 220-pound sophomore, but that hasn’t been a problem.
“We feed off each other,” Dupree told the Post and Courier. “We have confidence in each other. A lot of times, my weaknesses are his strengths. He’s a better passer and I’m a little faster. We’re two different kind of quarterbacks, so it works out great.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.