The Citadel’s First-Half Tie Against Alabama Should Count for More Than a Moral Victory

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 17:  Dante Smith #18 of the Citadel Bulldogs rushes for a touchdown against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 17, 2018 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Dante Smith rushes for a touchdown against Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Saying the Alabama Crimson Tide is the best football team in the country is like describing a Biblical plague as “that bug that’s been going ‘round.” Their margins of victory make North Korean elections look like squeakers, which is why The Citadel’s achievement on Saturday was so impressive. Sure, the Bulldogs wound up losing, 50-17, but they managed to go into the locker room in Tuscaloosa tied 10-10 at half. It may have been the most impressive accomplishment of the college football season.

The Bulldogs won the pregame coin toss, and the team’s official Twitter account took an insurmountable lead when it tweeted a celebratory post commemorating this feat.

The Citadel entered Saturday’s game with a 4-5 record and has suffered losses this season against football powerhouses like Wofford, Chattanooga, and Towson. Alabama, meanwhile, hadn’t allowed an opponent to score since Oct. 20. The Bulldogs changed that in the second quarter, and Dante Smith’s 45-yard run was the longest rushing touchdown Alabama has allowed since 2015.

You need to appreciate every small victory against Alabama, and the Bulldogs’ Twitter account kept the celebration going.

The Citadel’s triple-option befuddled the defending national champions, even though Alabama head coach Nick Saban had reserved time during both fall camp and the bye week to prepare for the tricky rushing attack. The Bulldogs tallied more than 19 minutes of possession in the first half, which was nearly nine full minutes more than the Crimson Tide managed. The Citadel is an institution that prides itself on marching, and it did not attempt a single pass in the first half.

Going into halftime with the score tied against Alabama should count for more than a moral victory. Just look at some of the first-half beat-downs the Crimson Tide has administered this season:

Louisville: 28-0

Arkansas State: 40-0

Ole Miss: 49-7

Mississippi State: 21-0

Up until Saturday, LSU’s 16-point halftime deficit was the narrowest Alabama managed all season. Adding to the surprise is the fact that The Cidtadel is a second-half team, at least according to Saban. “The last couple of games they’ve outscored their opponents dramatically in the second half,” he told reporters on Monday. “That’s what happened last week in Samford, they’re way [behind] in the game, the last two games, 24-10, 24-7, I think, and came back and won both of those games.”

The second half couldn’t have started any better for the Bulldogs, confirming Saban’s fears, and they forced an Alabama fumble during the kickoff return. They had an opportunity to kick a field goal and be the first team to take a lead on the Crimson Tide since last season’s national championship game, but, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The kicker missed, and Alabama went on to score touchdowns on its ensuing five possessions.

But that’s not important. What matters is that the unheralded team from South Carolina accomplished what no one else in the country has been able to do all year. They inconvenienced Alabama enough to ruin its leisurely halftime plans, and that alone should be worth a spot in the College Football Playoff.