Gardner-Webb opens the home portion of its 2016 schedule on Saturday, September 17, hosting #15 The Citadel in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm, with the game broadcast live via The Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com). Fabian Fuentes and Alex Guest will provide the call.
Gardner-Webb and The Citadel have met only once before, a 37-14 win by The Citadel on September 27, 2014 in Charleston, S.C. ... GWU took a 14-13 lead just four minutes into the third quarter of that game on a Lucas Beatty to Kenny Cook scoring pass ... The Citadel scored 24 unanswered points from there to run away with the game ... The host Bulldogs totaled 509 yards offensively, with 323 coming on the ground via a churning triple option attack ... The big stat of the game came from The Citadel's defense, however – with that unit recording a school-record 10 sacks on the night ... Gardner-Webb was held to minus-2 yards rushing as a result, with the 10 sacks allowed also a record on the GWU side ... The game was The Citadel's first win of the 2014 season.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged a 16-21 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. The Citadel head coach Brent Thompson (Norwich '98) is in his first season in charge of the Bulldogs' program after serving as offensive coordinator. He is 2-0 as a collegiate head coach.
AGAINST THE SOCON
Since moving to NCAA Division I prior to the 2000 season, Gardner-Webb has posted a 9-20 record against the Southern Conference. That has improved since Carroll McCray's arrival in 2013, with Gardner-Webb going 4-4 against the league since then – with two wins vs. Wofford (2013, 2014), one vs. Furman (2013) and one vs. VMI (2014). The losses came at Furman (2014), at The Citadel (2014), at Wofford (2015) and at Western Carolina last week.
Gardner-Webb is 12-4 in its home openers since moving up to the NCAA Division I level prior to the 2000 season. The 'Dogs have won nine of their last 11 home openers, but have opened at home against ranked opponents just twice – 2004 to No. 4 Furman (L, 34-6) and 2012 to No. 10 Wofford (L, 34-7). The last home opener vs. a SoCon squad came in 2013, with GWU taking a 28-21 win over Furman. GWU lost its home opener in 2015, falling in triple overtime to Elon. Saturday marks the first of six home games for Gardner-Webb.
Gardner-Webb will take on three teams currently ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25 preseason poll, with three more games against teams currently receiving votes in that same tabulation. Three of the first four games are away from home – with the lone home game coming this week vs. No. 15 The Citadel. After a trip to FBS Ohio, GWU will return home for a four-game homestand – but No. 17 Coastal Carolina (10/15) sits right in the middle of that stretch.
TURF THE REST OF THE WAY
Gardner-Webb will play each of its final nine games in 2016 on artificial surfaces, four on the road and six at home in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. The 10 games on artificial turf mark a single-season high for the Runnin' Bulldogs. GWU played its opener on natural grass at Elon (9/3)
THE GETER METER
Gardner-Webb linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, R-Sr.) returns for his final season in the Scarlet & Black and sits atop the Big South Conference stat sheet with 18 total tackles (12 solo) through two games. The Irmo, S.C., standout was named preseason third-team All-America by STATS FCS and was a first-team All-Big South Conference selection in July. Geter was a close runner up to the league's preseason Defensive Player of the Year award and was recently one of only 34 FCS seniors named to the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List. Geter, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds during offseason testing, led Gardner-Webb and ranked among the best in the Big South with 92 total tackles last season. He also led the squad with 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks.
ZONED FOR SUCCESS
Through two games in 2016, Gardner-Webb has gone 7-of-8 in the red zone – scoring touchdowns on six of those trips. Gardner-Webb opened the season by going 5-for-5 on drives that ventured inside the plus-20, scoring four rushing touchdowns to whip Elon in the second half of a 31-6 win. The 'Dogs capped two drives with rushing touchdowns at Western Carolina, with the second tying the game at 14-14 midway through the second quarter.
AGAINST RANKED FOES
Gardner-Webb has picked up six wins over top-25 teams since 2000, its first year playing FCS football. The first win came at No. 23 New Hampshire on November 11, 2000 (38-35). GWU defeated No. 25 Western Carolina in 2004 – then went 3-1 against ranked foes in 2013. GWU knocked off No. 15 Liberty in Boiling Springs last October 10 (34-20).
Gardner-Webb returns four starters on its offensive line for 2016 – right tackle Charlie Eudy (6-2, 280, R-So.), left tackle Will Millikan (6-3, 301, So.), center Caleb Smith (6-3, 330, R-Sr.) and left guard David Sutton (6-3, 303, R-Sr.). The quartet has now combined for 61 starts and more than 3,500 career snaps at GWU. Right guard Gabe Nold (6-1, 311, Sr.) has been neck-and-neck with newcomer Brayden Briggs (6-3, 300, R-Fr.) for a starting spot. Nold started the opener at Elon and Briggs started the second game at Western Carolina.
Gardner-Webb added three FBS transfers during the summer months, all on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Caleb Chapman (6-3 230, R-So.) transferred from Akron after playing quarterback for the Zips. Receiver Braylin Collins (6-1, 180, R-Fr.) transferred from Eastern Michigan. Quarterback Ramsey Rigby (6-1, 190, Fr.) spent the spring semester at Troy University as a reserve before deciding to join the Gardner-Webb program. Collins saw significant action in the opener at Elon, but did not catch a pass. He caught his first career pass at Western Carolina, a seven-yarder in the third quarter. He has worked with the first-team offense in several packages so far this season.
Gardner-Webb has been blessed with a wealth of talent at the tight end position of late, with a GWU man earning a spot on the All-Big South Conference team consecutively since 2012 – Seth Cranfill (2012, 2014) and current starter Mike Estes (2013, 2015). Cranfill earned All-America honors from the Associated Press in 2014 and Estes enters his final season on track to duplicate that feat. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Estes has paced GWU with eight receptions over the first two games and now has 89 catches for 1,118 yards and eight scores for his career. His yardage and touchdown totals are tops in Big South history. He needs just one more reception to catch former teammate Cranfill for the all-time lead in that category.
DON'T OVERLOOK THE COOK
With Chad Geter garnering a truckload of preseason accolades, one could easily overlook another All-America caliber linebacker at Gardner-Webb. Aaron Cook (6-1, 235, Sr.) roams the BANDIT position opposite Geter in GWU's 3-4 scheme and has more than earned the right to call himself one of the nation's best. A two-time All-Big South Conference selection (2014, 2015), Cook led the team in tackles as a sophomore and totaled 77 more stops last season for a unit that ranked No. 13 nationally in total defense. The Edgefield, S.C., native was also a preseason All-Big South Conference choice by the league's head coaches in July. He had eight hits and an interception on Saturday at Western Carolina, with his second tackle giving him 200 for his career in Boiling Springs.
THIS WEEK AROUND THE BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE
Saturday, September 17
Monmouth at Kent State, 3:30 pm (ESPN3)
#15 The Citadel at Gardner-Webb, 6:00 pm (Big South Network)
Presbyterian at Campbell, 6:00 pm
Liberty at SMU, 7:00 pm (ESPN3)
Charleston Southern is idle
FAST MOVING OBJECT
Running back Khalil Lewis (5-10, 215, R-So.) had positioned himself for a breakout season with hard work during the summer months, and that extra time paid off nicely in season's first two games. Against Elon in the opener, Lewis scored the first three touchdowns of his career and ran for 109 yards on 23 carries – his first 100-yard game. The former Hilton Head (S.C.) High star followed with 19 carries for a career-best 121 yards and a touchdown at Western Carolina (9/10) and leads the Big South Conference in rushing and scoring heading into Saturday's matchup with The Citadel.
TO THE MAX
Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (6-2, 220, Jr.) enjoyed another standout performance, becoming the first quarterback in Big South Conference history to post a third game with at least 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing. The Edisto, S.C., native ran for 154 yards and a score on 21 carries and completed 12-of-19 passes for 102 yards vs. Elon (9/3). He also broke the GWU rushing record for quarterbacks, passing former starter Nick Roberts on that list. He now has 1,274 yards on the ground for his career – which ranks No. 6 in Big South Conference history for a career. The performance was his fourth 100-yard game, which is also a record for Gardner-Webb quarterbacks. Maxwell's rushing total was the second-best of his career and earned him Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in two seasons. He was also an honorable mention choice by STATS for its FCS National Offensive Player of the Week honor – also for the second time in two seasons. He ran for 71 yards and a 13-yard score at Western Carolina.
ROOKIE MAKING A MOVE
Freshman back Jayln Cagle (5-11, 195) has seen limited action through the first two games after an impressive fall camp, but is slowly working himself into position to make a bigger splash. The former A.L. Brown (N.C.) High star came off the bench at Western Carolina and carried five times for 47 yards. He darted nine yards on his opening carry and took the next snap 27 yards for a first down. Cagle had two carries for 11 yards in the season opener at Elon
Gardner-Webb hits the road for the third time in four weeks next Saturday, traveling to Athens, Ohio, to play FBS foe Ohio. The game will kick off at 2:00 pm and will air live on ESPN3 (WatchESPN.com). The host Bobcats, who play in the Mid American Conference (MAC) own a 2-0 edge in the all-time series, having topped Gardner-Webb in 2007 and 2011. The 2007 game was the first "guarantee game" against an FBS foe in GWU football history. †
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb Welcomes #15 The Citadel On Saturday For Home Opener (6:00 PM)