If you’re looking for analysis of the Big South title race and autobid contention, just jump straight to the bottom. The rest of us will join you there shortly.
(4-6) Gardner-Webb 17, (5-3) #9 Charleston Southern 10
Finally, Gardner-Webb! After nearly a full season of being just a play or three away from getting a breakthrough “vindication” win, the Runnin’ Bulldogs came from behind to upset a top-10 opponent and they did it on the road.
QB Tyrell Maxwell was absolutely stellar for G-W (195 yards passing and 165 yards rushing) on a day when they didn’t have many other options. It was clear from the start that last week’s game at Liberty had taken a physical toll on the Gardner-Webb backfield. The primary complement to Maxwell, RB Khalil Lewis, did not play this week after leaving the LU game late with flu-like symptoms. Also, RB Jonathon Blackmon, an explosive and steadily-contributing athlete for G-W who had to be helped off the field during overtime last week, only got in this game for a few plays. That left the weight of the Gardner-Webb ground attack – which is what their offense is best at – resting on the shoulder pads of Maxwell and role player Jayln Cagle. For the first half, it wasn’t enough but for the whole game, it was plenty.
CSU started the game off with their boot on the accelerator. Getting the ball first, the Buccaneers and QB Shane Bucenell – returning from an injury last week against Bucknell – marched right down the field in five plays. Bucenell hit two long passes on the drive, the second being a 25-yard score to WR Colton Korn that put CSU up 7-0. It was just two and a half minutes into the game and, already, it looked like CSU could be on their way to another blowout win over Gardner-Webb. The Bucs’ defense held Maxwell and Company and got the ball back three minutes later, ready to go blow through the Bulldogs once again.
But, then, nothing. I mean, nothing. Perhaps the G-W defense was three minutes late getting warmed up but, once they were hot, they were on fire. Since the Florida State game, CSU had been averaging just north of 45 points a game but, after the first drive against G-Webb, never got in the end zone again. For their part, however, the CSU defense was just as stout in the first half. After a CSU punt, Maxwell orchestrated a drive that got as far as the Bucs’ 31 but he was intercepted by CSU’s Cameron Jackson on a deep route over the middle.
With their respective defenses both in full effect, the two teams traded punts for the majority of the rest of the first half. CSU momentarily broke the monotony late in the second quarter. Bucenell hit WR Kam Brown deep over the middle to get his team into scoring territory but Bucenell took a sack at the G-W 15-yard line and the Bucs were forced to attempt a mid-range field goal. The kick sailed wide, however, and the missed opportunity would haunt CSU later.
At the halftime whistle, the score remained the same as it had for the last twenty-six minutes and change, a 7-0 CSU lead. Neither team had managed any sort of consistency on offense. CSU also led in offensive yardage, 170-114, but with 70 of it coming on their first and only touchdown drive.
Coming out of the break, it was more of the same. Gardner-Webb actually went backward on their first drive that was punctuated by a terrible punt and left CSU set up in prime real estate on the Bulldogs’ side of the 50. However, CSU only managed to move the ball eight yards and were forced to punt from the G-W 33. Here, then, Maxwell and Gardner-Webb finally made the most of an opportunity. Facing 3rd-and-7 deep in his own end, Maxwell wove through traffic for a 27-yard gain that pushed the ball out to midfield. Three plays later, G-W called virtually the same play. This time, Maxwell – who weighs in at 6’2” 220 – shoved away one tackler and simply ran through two attempted shoulder tackles going around the right side. CSU’s Solomon Brown ran Maxwell down at the 20-yard line but over-pursued and Maxwell cut back, running nearly parallel across the field before finally crossing the goal line at the near-side numbers. Just like that, G-W had tied the game up at 7-all with a 90-yard drive coming mostly on the heels of Tyrell Maxwell.
CSU did not respond. The Bucs were held to three-and-out with Bucenell being momentarily forced from the game after taking a hard second-down sack. Their defense, however, bailed them out. After punting the ball away to Gardner-Webb, the Bulldogs were driving once again when Blackmon failed to field an option pitch cleanly. CSU fell on it and were in business exactly on the midfield stripe. The ball never left the ground on this drive as Bucenell handed off to running backs five times on the drive. However, facing 4th-and-1 on the G-W 16, the Bucs were called for false start and were forced to send out the field goal unit. This kick was true and CSU took a 10-7 lead with just over thirteen minutes remaining in the 4th quarter.
That quarter, however, belonged to Gardner-Webb. The two teams traded punts once more before G-W took over. The Bulldogs commenced to burn five full minutes off the clock and moved the ball to the CSU 22-yard line. From there, Paul Schumacher drilled a 39-yard field goal to tie the score up once more. Given the ball with just over three minutes remaining, it seemed the stage was set for CSU to engineer a drive that would produce the winning points and, simultaneously, erase the clock and Gardner-Webb’s chances. Did not happen.
CSU’s offense sputtered again, the Bucs punted and, with 1:42 left, G-W got the ball back deep in their own end of the field. However, just as he was a week ago against Liberty, Maxwell was up for the challenge. After a couple of short completions earned a crucial first down, Maxwell found his favorite receiver, TE Mike Estes, in a coverage gap behind the CSU linebackers. The pass moved the ball out to midfield with :47 remaining. On the next play, CSU dropped nine players in deep coverage and only rushed two. Maxwell easily escaped the rush and, with the CSU defenders all watching G-W receivers, he practically strolled for a 15-yard gain inside the Bucs’ 30. The next play was a designed QB draw up the middle for Maxwell. The CSU defense was watching him like a hawk this time and collapsed to the middle to stop him. However, when Maxwell cut the run back outside it meant that no one was there to stop him. He was officially ruled out at the 1-yard line but that proved a formality. With :27 remaining, Maxwell hit Estes in the flat for a 1-yard TD pass that proved the final margin, 17-10.
CSU, however, would not go quietly. Robert Mitchell replaced Bucenell at QB and promptly hit a CSU receiver deep for a 55-yard gain that set the Bucs up at the G-W 15-yard line. That, however, was where the drive would end. Two plays later, Mitchell would throw inside while his intended receiver went outside and G-W’s Jaylan Foster picked off the pass to end the game.
What does this win mean for Gardner-Webb? – It’s vindication of a sort. Gardner-Webb is a good team and better than their record reflects. The Western Carolina game notwithstanding – and that loss looks worse and more inexplicable with each passing week – the Bulldogs have been in every game they’ve played. The fact that their highlight win comes this late in the year after their fate has already been effectively decided is a shame but it’s also a statement on the resolve of this Gardner-Webb team.
What does this loss mean for Charleston Southern? – There’s no sugar-coating this, it’s a really really bad loss. Not a bad loss in the sense that the Bucs lost to a bad team – they didn’t, see above – but the circumstances of this loss put CSU’s all-but-assumed postseason hopes in total jeopardy. I’ll get into that more at the bottom but, as to the game itself, CSU was physically and energetically overmatched in this game, particularly toward the end. That doesn’t bode well going forward.
(7-2) Coastal Carolina 38, (4-6) Monmouth 17
I have no idea what to make of this Monmouth team anymore or of Coastal. Thanks to a brutal travel schedule, Monmouth is running on fumes at this point and, thanks to a truly lengthy list of injuries, Coastal is playing games with scout team players at this point. The results are both expected and mystifying.
Monmouth started the game with Kenji Bahar under center for the second straight game and promptly fed the Coastal defense a steady diet of Reggie White, Jr.. White caught 53 yards worth of passes on a 69-yard drive that opened the scoring 7-0 in favor of the visitors just two minutes into the game.
It would get worse before it got better for Coastal. CCU would cough up the ball on their third play of the game and Monmouth would turn that into a Matt White 45-yard field goal two minutes later. Coastal would eventually put together a scoring drive on their next possession, moving 55 yards on 13 plays to get a 22-yard Ryan Granger field goal that cut the Monmouth lead to 10-3. That drive, however, would prove costly as Coastal lost Chase Tidwell, their starting right tackle, and Tyler Keane, their starting* quarterback on consecutive plays. *(Keane began the season 4th on the CCU depth chart but has been started the last six games due to the mounting injuries.) Neither player would return.
Monmouth would only move the ball four yards on their next possession but Coastal was in a giving mood and fumbled the ball right back to the Hawks on the very next play. Eleven plays later, that turnover turned into another Monmouth touchdown pass for Bahar, this one to TE Jake Powell, and the Hawks held a 17-3 lead on Coastal Carolina in the second quarter.
Coastal continued to struggle mightily against the worst defense in the Big South. After gaining a single yard on their next possession, the CCU punt blooped only ten yards downfield. The defense held but the next Chant drive was foiled by a botched snap. In fact, until around the 5:00 mark of the second quarter, it seemed as if Monmouth was content to let Coastal stop themselves and Coastal was more than happy to oblige. That didn’t sit right with Kenny Daniels, however. The Chants finally got some forward momentum when the Chants’ running back broke free and rumbled 58 yards to get the ball into the Monmouth red zone. From there, replacement QB Austin Bradley lunged up the middle for a touchdown to cut the Hawk lead to 17-10.
Coastal’s defense, however, still could not contain Reggie White, Jr.. White picked up another 39 yards through the air as Monmouth ran off the last five minutes of the half and attempted a field goal with a second remaining. The kick, however, was tipped at the line and the halftime score remained the same.
Coming out of the break, Coastal seemed deadset on re-asserting the natural order. Another big run by Daniels had Coastal on the Monmouth goal line once again. However, wildcat QB Ryan Lee fumbled the ball away going into the end zone and Monmouth fell on it to halt the threat. This, however, was merely a delay of the inevitable. Monmouth went nowhere with the ball and punted back to midfield. Two plays later, Coastal ran a halfback pass play from Ky’Jon Tyler to Chris Jones that put the ball right back on Monmouth’s doorstep. Bradley would hit Bruce Mapp for the tying score moments later.
After holding Monmouth once more, the Chants would get the ball back near midfield and begin a steady, methodical drive. Just before the 3rd-quarter whistle, Lee would redeem himself with a 17-yard run for score that put Coastal up 24-17 and allowed a small sigh of relief for the teal faithful.
Monmouth never threatened again. Their last three drives of the game ended in interceptions, the last of which was returned for a Coastal touchdown. Lee added one more for the Chanticleers to create the final margin.
What does this loss mean for Monmouth? – After getting absolutely battered by Kennesaw a week ago, the Hawks’ first half dominance against former Big South power and FBS-transitional Coastal Carolina was more than a bit unexpected. However, the loss is their 4th-straight and assures Monmouth of their second consecutive losing season, a fact that seemed really unlikely after beating Fordham less than a month ago.
(7-2) Kennesaw State 56, (5-5) Clark Atlanta 0
KSU got eight touchdowns from seven different players and scored twice in every quarter of the contest. The Owls rolled up 463 rushing yards on a CAU team that would have been more effective manning the concession stands trying to raise funds to buy out of this game. Chaston Bennett led the way for KSU with 179 yards on just seven carries but, all told, eleven different KSU players carried the ball for positive yardage. Defensively, CAU was overmatched from the start. The Panthers only crossed midfield twice with their best drive ending in a fumble at the KSU 5-yard line.
All in all, it was a good day for Kennesaw State. I’ll quote my preview of this game from last week: “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.”
That’s exactly what happened. Rarely have I been so prescient.
What does this win mean for KSU? – Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
(6-3) Liberty 16, (2-7) Presbyterian 0
For whatever reason, Liberty-Presbyterian is habitually a dogfight of a game that defies records and expectations. This game has an odd distinction in that it was both not nearly as close a contest as the final score would indicate but also exactly as close a game as the final margin says.
For starters, Presbyterian’s offense is as bad as advertised. The Blue Hose turned the ball over four times, crossed midfield only three times and threatened to score only once. On the flip side, Liberty did pretty much whatever they wanted on offense as long as that thing they wanted was running the ball. The LU passing game was a disaster and costly penalties hampered the offensive production all game long.
Presby started off the game by fumbling on the second play. Liberty’s Alpha Jalloh picked up the loose ball and returned it for a score just 38 seconds into the game, only to have the return yardage wiped out by penalty. Liberty didn’t do much with the great field position – thanks to another penalty – and punted the ball back.
The two teams traded punts and Liberty found itself starting off at the PC 45-yard line. The Flames handed the ball to RB Carrington Mosley six straight times and the big running back moved the ball into the red zone. Three plays later, RB Todd Macon carried the ball around the right side for touchdown to put Liberty ahead. The extra point sailed wide right, however, and the lead stood at 6-0.
Presbyterian got their first first down of the game on their next possession but promptly coughed up the football at their own 31-yard line. Liberty QB Buckshot Calvert, not known for his rushing ability, ripped off a 14-yard run to get the ball inside the PC 20 but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. Liberty’s next play went for nine yards but was also wiped out by a holding penalty. Liberty’s next play ended in a fumble back to Presby that gave the Blue Hose 16 yards better field position than they had had. The Blue Hose would begin their best offensive effort to that point but, ultimately, it wouldn’t matter. PC pushed as far as the Liberty 22 but QB Ben Cheek was sacked on second down and watched the shotgun snap sail over his head for a 15-yard loss on third down.
After Liberty did nothing with the ball, PC got its best scoring opportunity of the day. Cheek caught Liberty looking at a fake WR screen and hit WR DaShawn Davis over the top for a 48-yard gain that set Presbyterian up at the Liberty 7. However, the Flames defenders stuffed the next three plays and PC sent the field goal unit on. The resulting kick, however, was blocked and LU took over at their own 20 where Mosley immediately went to work. His next carry went straight up the middle and flipped the field, going 60 yards to the Presbyterian 20-yard line. The Flames’ drive, however, stalled when Calvert’s touchdown pass to WR BJ Farrow was nullified by yet another penalty. Liberty’s kicker split the uprights for a 22-yard field goal and LU took a 9-0 lead into halftime.
After the break, Liberty’s second drive moved in earnest. Five straight carries by Mosley and Frankie Hickson carried the Flames 40 yards downfield. However, Calvert tried to force a pass into the end zone and three Blue Hose batted it around before Kenneth Coleman came down with the interception.
The next several drives for each team were variations on the same theme. Presbyterian would get the ball, do nothing and punt. Liberty would get the ball, begin to move the ball and then shoot themselves in the foot with an untimely penalty. Eventually, however, it was the Liberty defense that would force the issue. Standing at his own 25, Cheek threw a bullet over the middle that was batted away by Liberty’s Chris Turner. The deflection fell into the arms of Dexter Robbins and Liberty had the ball at the PC 34. There would be no messing around here. Mosley instantly broke off a 17-yard gain to get the ball inside the red zone. From there, it was six straight runs by Frankie Hickson with the last being over the top of the line on a 1-yard dive into the end zone that set the final margin.
Presbyterian would mount one final charge, moving as far as the Liberty 39. However, Liberty’s Erwin Dessources would get to Cheek just as he threw and the fluttering pass would be picked off.
What does this win mean for Liberty? – It was an ugly win but a win nonetheless and the outcome was significant. This win moves LU to 4-0 in Big South play and, coupled with the CSU loss, guarantees them a share of the conference title. It also gives them their 6th win against D1 competition and makes them, in theory, eligible for an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. The six wins also assures Liberty of their eleventh-straight winning season.
What does this loss mean for Presbyterian? – This is another in a long line of hard-fought but doomed efforts for the Blue Hose. The PC offense has simply been unable to move the football with any consistency against scholarship competition.
Biggest surprise of the week: Monmouth absolutely wrecking Coastal in the first half.
Biggest disappointment of the week: That they couldn’t keep it going. Call it sour grapes if you want but it would have been absurdly funny to see the worst team in the Big South dominate the program that has abandoned the conference for the greener pastures of the Sun Belt.
Big South Standings:
Liberty 4-0 6-3 overall
Charleston Southern 2-1 5-3 overall
Kennesaw State 2-1 7-2 overall
Gardner-Webb 2-2 4-6 overall
Presbyterian 1-3 2-7 overall
Monmouth 0-4 4-6 overall
Implications of the week (playoffs included):
- Liberty is guaranteed at least a piece of the Big South title. The Flames can win the title outright as well as the FCS autobid with a victory against CSU this week. They can also share the title with either CSU or Kennesaw but not both. With six D1 wins, Liberty is also eligible for an at-large bid to the playoffs. The Flames have equal parts no good wins (pending games against CSU and Coastal Carolina) and no bad losses (Virginia Tech, SMU and Jacksonville St).
- Charleston Southern can win a share of the title and the autobid by winning at Liberty this week and then defeating Kennesaw State at home the week after. Charleston Southern CANNOT win an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs. Thanks to their bizarre schedule, the Bucs only have four D1 wins in hand and must win their last two just to be playoff-eligible. Two more wins, of course, would also win them the autobid.
- CSU losing to Gardner-Webb actually hurt Kennesaw most of all as it eliminated the possibility of a three-way tie for the league title and any long-shot hopes of KSU winning whatever arcane tiebreaker the Big South might use this time around. KSU cannot win the autobid but can win a share of the Big South title if CSU beats Liberty this week and then the Owls beat the Bucs the week after. This would create a two-way tie at the top of the standings between Liberty and KSU with Liberty holding the head-to-head tiebreaker for the autobid. Even at 7-2, Kennesaw must win out just to be eligible for at-large consideration. The Owls currently have only four D1 wins but can get to six by beating Presbyterian this week and CSU the week after. Still, despite potentially being 9-2, KSU’s playoff resume would be paper-thin. Their best win by far would be against a CSU team that would have then lost at least two of their last three games. Having a home loss to (currently) 3-6 ETSU on their record surely won’t help KSU either.
- Gardner-Webb was mathematically eliminated from title and playoff contention a week ago. That makes their win over CSU while having nothing on the line that much more significant.
- Presbyterian is gamely playing out the hand they were dealt. Unfortunately, that hand is just a bunch of red cards.
- Monmouth needs a break. And a hug.