(3-6) Gardner-Webb @ (5-2) Charleston Southern – Saturday, Nov 5th, 12:00 (American Sports Network)
CSU welcomes Gardner-Webb to Buccaneer Field in a game they must win in order to keep pace with Liberty in the Big South standings. The last two games in this series have been largely non-competitive with CSU winning at home 44-14 in 2014 and 34-0 last year up in Boiling Springs. The Bulldogs’ last win in the series was in 2013 against a Bucs squad that came into the game at 10-1 buffered a massive special teams meltdown that day and only managed a field goal on offense in a 27-10 win for G-W.
It will be interesting to see how Gardner-Webb approaches this game. Despite their poor record, this is a team that has been just a few plays away all season long. The G-W coaching staff has tailored the offense around QB Tyrell Maxwell and RB’s Khalil Lewis and Jonathon Blackmon and the 3-4 defense has remained a force. However, Lewis went to the bench during the 4th quarter of Liberty game with an undisclosed illness and didn’t return while Blackmon had to be helped off the field after suffering a leg injury on the next play of overtime. To top it off, the loss to Liberty effectively knocked Gardner-Webb out of the Big South title race as well as assured the Bulldogs of a losing record on the season. With only two games to play thanks to a poorly-placed bye week, G-W enters November with nothing material to play for. All that remains for them is pride and finally – belatedly – getting a statement win that could carry over into next season.
For their part, CSU may have yet another question to answer at quarterback. Starter Shane Bucenell went down with an apparent lower leg injury in the 3rd quarter against Bucknell and did not return. Instead of inserting their “other” quarterback, Robert Mitchell, the CSU coaching staff put little-used London Johnson into the game. Johnson has subbed in for Bucenell before – most notably during the Kentucky State game when Bucenell was injured just before halftime – and even started the Florida State game for the Bucs. Even so, FSU had been Johnson’s last game action before Saturday. According to CSU’s TV announcers, Mitchell was present and dressed for the game which makes it all the more curious why Johnson took the helm in what was, at the time, a one-score game. To be fair, Johnson performed well against Bucknell – rushing for two touchdowns and passing for another – but he also threw an interception and pitched the ball away to the other team on the Bucs’ two-yard line.
What Gardner-Webb has to do against CSU: Stay salty. It’s hard to imagine that many of Gardner-Webb’s team goals for 2016 are still achievable but beating a top #10 opponent is likely one of them. All year long, the Bulldogs have been playing like a team with something to prove despite never quite managing to make their point. This is their last shot at doing so.
What CSU has to do against Gardner-Webb: Stay focused. CSU gave away two touchdowns to Bucknell on bad turnovers as well as over 130 yards in penalties in as undisciplined a performance as we’ve seen from the Bucs in quite some time. G-W has bigger and better talent on all sides of the ball than Bucknell did and is a much-larger threat to CSU’s title hopes should the Bucs make the same mistakes.
5-4) Clark Atlanta @ (6-2) Kennesaw State – Saturday, November 5th 1:00pm (Big South Network)
Kennesaw dips back into the D2 ranks for the third time this season and will face the Clark-Atlanta Panthers out of the SIAC. CAU is 5-4 on the year with their best win of the season probably being……oh, who cares? They’re another below-average D2 team on a KSU schedule loaded with below-average D2 teams. Obviously, the Owls’ second-year program is still working through their “starter schedule” games that were contracted before the team took the field. However, that doesn’t change the fact that CAU is another faceless and defenseless opponent that the Owls are going to go out and just ramrod during the empty time and space between games that matter. The campuses of KSU and CAU are 35 miles – and, therefore six hours by car through Atlanta traffic – apart. After sorting out Point and Missouri S&T, I’m no longer inclined to go into the high and low points of a game that was probably scheduled as the result of the two AD’s getting locked in next to each other in the same traffic jam on I-75.
Kennesaw will run the ball for touchdowns. Kennesaw will throw the ball for touchdowns. Clark Atlanta will do significantly less of both. Kennesaw’s fans will be happy. Clark Atlanta’s will be less so. The end.
What Kennesaw has to do against Clark Atlanta: Whatever.
What Clark Atlanta has to do against Kennesaw: As if.
(4-5) Monmouth @ (6-2) Coastal Carolina – Saturday, Nov 5th 2:00pm (Chanticleer Sports Network)
Monmouth has never beaten Coastal Carolina in four tries and should probably not expect to soon. The closest the Hawks have come to knocking off the Chanticleers was just last year in West Long Branch, NJ when the two teams fought to a virtual stalemate but which ended in Coastal’s favor when Ryan Granger booted a 30-yard field goal as time expired to secure a 23-20 win. That, however, was a long damn time ago.
For Monmouth, even four weeks ago must seem like a year ago. That was when the Hawks were sitting at 4-2, having beaten both frontrunners in the Patriot League, Lehigh and Fordham. Monmouth did already have a loss in Big South play to pre-season league favorite Charleston Southern but were primed to make some noise for at-large consideration. Instead, their defense completely collapsed as they lost their next three games – all in-conference – starting with a mid-October Thursday night beating at the hands of lowly Presbyterian. They currently sit at the bottom of the standings, with only a season-ending date at Gardner-Webb remaining, having been outscored by the rest of the Big South to the tune of 153-61.
How Monmouth head coach Kevin Callahan and his staff will approach this game is anyone’s guess. It’s the Hawks’ seventh road game of the season at a non-conference opponent who has nearly twenty more scholarships at their disposal. Further, it leads directly into Monmouth’s bye week – again, one of the worst places to have a bye week – with, as mentioned, another road date on the other side. On the plus side, with wins in their last two games, Monmouth finish above .500 for the first time since 2014. Also, the game does have a bit of odd regional flavor as well since a substantial portion of Coastal Carolina’s student body as well as that of Coastal’s football roster hails from the NJ/PA/MD/DE region.
Coastal is ridiculously banged up at this point. That’s not to suggest that Monmouth has a significant chance because of it but, rather, that Coastal has reached a point in the season where they are flat out experimenting with things. Last week against Presbyterian, eight different players carried the ball – including a defensive back – and three different players lined up under center with one of them being a baseball player who was handed his first-ever college football jersey just a month ago. The result was a 332-yard rushing day and a 31-point win for the guys in teal so that’s certainly hard to argue with. However, in a transitional year for Coastal when they already have little tangible to play for but are now working with a patched-together lineup, it’s begun to feel like the CCU coaches, for good or ill, are simply drawing plays up on the sideline and saying, “Let’s try this with that guy. What’s the worst that could happen?” Frankly, I commend them for it. This is prime opportunity to try to innovate and there’s almost literally no risk.
What Monmouth has to do against Coastal: Hold the ball as long as possible. The Hawks won’t win but, having given up more than 700 rushing yards in the last two weeks, it might minimize some of the damage. After the game is over in Conway, I suggest taking the team the extra few miles down to Myrtle Beach and spending an evening and a day before flying home Sunday afternoon. Monmouth is off the following week so spending an extra 24 hours on the beach won’t hurt them. That seems an unlikely course of action but it’s the advice I have.
What Coastal has to do against Monmouth: Nearly everything Coastal did worked against Presbyterian and there’s little reason to expect that it won’t against Monmouth.
(5-3) Liberty @ (2-6) Presbyterian – Saturday, November 5th, 2:00 (ESPN3, LFSN)
At first blush, this looks like a game between two teams going in opposite directions. Liberty has won four straight while Presby has lost four of their last five. This Saturday will be just the 4th home game of the season for PC but it will also be their last before finishing out on the road at Kennesaw State and FBS South Alabama.
Liberty is, again, in a must-win situation. Next week’s home date against Charleston Southern looms larger with each passing week but any slip-ups in between could be devastating. For what it’s worth, Liberty has slipped up at Presbyterian once before with devastating consequences. Flames fans will long remember the 2008 team that finished the season ranked and with a 10-2 record only to be snubbed by the playoff committee thanks to former Blue Hose – and, now, Arizona Cardinals – Justin Bethel swatting away a game-winning touchdown pass to persevere a 31-28 win for Presbyterian on this same field. That was a long time ago and Liberty hasn’t lost to Presbyterian since, despite very close calls in both 2011 and just last year, but that loss still haunts the Liberty faithful.
Liberty comes into this game after getting their first “gut” win of the season. Against Gardner-Webb, the Flames made crucial mistakes that turned the game in G-W’s favor but were able to rebound and take a late lead. When Gardner-Webb made a late charge of their own to force overtime, Liberty again responded, blocking a field goal in the extra time to get the win. That bodes well for this week’s opponent, Presbyterian. PC has certainly played closer games against LU in Lynchburg but the Blue Hose have been traditionally been a tough out.
Presbyterian comes into this game after having dug themselves a deep early hole against Coastal Carolina and leaving themselves no way to climb out. After turning the ball over just once in the three weeks prior, PC threw three interceptions and fumbled on the first play of the game at their own 20-yard line. As is their M.O. in recent years, the PC defense has again performed better than the PC offense but not significantly so this time. While they held Monmouth to under 300 total yards in that win, PC gave up more than 500 yards of offense apiece to CSU and Gardner-Webb and another 471 to Coastal.
What Liberty needs to do against Presbyterian: Get the turnovers. After hauling in 15 turnovers in the first five games of the season, the Liberty defense has since taken away only three, all against Monmouth. Presbyterian has given the ball back to LU via sudden change four times in each of the last two years and those plays served a crucial role in the outcomes.
What Presbyterian needs to do against Liberty: Defensively, keep the Liberty receivers in front of you. The Flames love the long ball and they’re good enough at it that, in recent weeks, they’ve been able to use the threat of it to successfully open up the running lanes.