My thanks to Coach Houston for taking the time to answer my questions and to Assistant AD Derek Satterfield for helping make it happen. The interview was originally intended to be used in the context of a preview article, however Coach Houston’s comments are quite insightful and really should stand on their own.
SoCon Recruiting: For the conference as a whole, the perception after App St and Ga Southern departed is a weaker SoCon with only 1 bid to the playoffs recently. Every team in the conference appears to be improving each year, how close is the conference from being back to a 2-3 bid league?
Coach Houston: “There is tremendous parity in the conference. Last year Chattanooga was no question the class of the conference but there was not a whole lot of difference between the rest of us. You have some teams that have a lot back from last year that are going to be improved. Plus, Chattanooga has a lot back, so there is a lot of improvement over a conference with a lot of parity. That creates a pretty strong conference again.”
SoCon Recruiting: What are your thoughts on the trend of FCS teams playing 2 FBS teams in a season? Doesn’t this severely limit the margin of error for teams looking to reach the FCS playoffs? Is this a necessary evil for financial reasons or is it truly hampering the game?
Coach Houston: “I’m absolutely against playing two FBS teams. You look at us this year, we have 11 ball games and two of them are against FBS opponents. That leaves us nine FCS games, and you have a very, very demanding conference slate. I think it’s very challenging to put on a program of our size. I’d like to see us, at the very least, and our Director of Athletics Jim Senter is on the same page with me, stick to one FBS game per year.”
SoCon Recruiting: You led the league in total offense last season behind a senior QB. What will the Bulldogs need to improve or build upon in 2015 with a younger QB to continue the offensive momentum?
Coach Houston: “We led the league in yards, but we have to finish drives and convert yardage into points. That’s the challenge for our offense coming into this year. The great thing for us on offense is we have 10 starters back from last year. We are replacing one very, very important component in Aaron Miller, but we have an experienced group around whoever takes his place. I think having that experience come through will help our new quarterback and then we need to do a good job of finishing drives when we get down into the red zone.”
SoCon Recruiting: The option is not generally thought of in terms of winning extremely high scoring games. What do you need to improve upon the most on defense from last season?
Coach Houston: “Number one we have to get off the field on third down. Number two we have to create manageable third downs. Those go hand-in-hand so we have to be more consistent overall. If we are better on first down, we’ll have more success on second down. If we’re better on first and second down, we’ll have better success on third downs. When we get in those situations, we have to come through and get off the field to give the ball back to our offense. I know you started the question with triple-option offenses are traditionally low-scoring, but our last two years at Lenior-Rhyne we averaged 40 points per game. You don’t have to be a low-scoring offense just because you run the triple option. I would rather us be a high-scoring offense but the way we go about it is a little bit different than what a lot of the spread teams do.”
SoCon Recruiting: I rated Citadel’s recruiting class of 2015 in the top half of the Southern Conference, do you expect any true freshmen to play immediately? If so, who are you most excited to see play on Saturday’s this season?
Coach Houston: “It’s still early in camp to be definitive, but I do expect some freshmen to contribute this year. On the offensive line, Tyler Davis is going to be a guy you’ll see in there. He’s too talented, too smart and is practicing too well right now. He’ll be in there competing somewhere on the interior of the offensive line. Rod Johnson, at A-Back, is going to be in the mix. He’s having a very, very good camp and is playing with more and more confidence every day so I think you’ll see him on the field pretty quickly. On the defensive front, you have several guys you might see. Kevin Graham, Ken Allen and Noah Dawkins are practicing well right now. In the secondary, you’ll see Aron Spann and you could see Khafari Buffalo. Who knows who else. We have a lot of young guys we are taking a good, hard look at over the next couple of weeks to see if they are ready to play.”
SoCon Recruiting: Which Bulldog(s) that we may not be familiar with yet do you expect will have a breakthrough season? Who will be the new fan favorite?
Coach Houston: “Offensively, there’s a lot of potential. Cam Jackson and Isiaha Smith had good freshman years but I think they’re both capable of a lot more. Even though Vinny Miller is an established veteran, you could see a bigger season from him. Alex Glover out wide will be a very consistent player for us there. Defensively, Jonathan King is having a great preseason. You could have a guy right there that is every bit as good as Mitchell Jeter, and that gives us a pretty formidable pair in the middle.”
SoCon Recruiting: After a fantastic class in 2015, what positions are priorities for the class of 2016?
Coach Houston: “Our offensive line has been together for a year and a half now. We are going to lose Sam Frye this year and have a couple of seniors next year, so we have to build on Tyler Davis and some of the young guys we recruited this year. We have to recruit several solid guys there on the offensive front. With Alex Glover and Brandon Eakins both graduating at wide receiver, you’ll probably see us take one or two receivers also. Defensively, we are going to continue to build depth on our front and at linebacker. We’re graduating James Riley this year and Tevin Floyd next year, so we have to solidify that.”