Big South: Week 5 Preview (10/1)

(1-3) Presbyterian    OPEN

Presbyterian gets the week off to try and assess the damage.  Obvious areas of concern are the health of the quarterback position and the defensive line as well as rapid deterioration of the defensive unit as a whole.  On a couple of occasions in years past, PC head coach Harold Nichols has used the bye week to make wholesale changes to his team.  In 2011, he parted ways with his defensive coordinator during the bye and, in 2014, benched two veteran but ineffective quarterbacks in favor of freshman Hays McMath who ultimately led the team to four of their six wins that year.

What Presbyterian has to do in the bye week:  Get the defense squared away and give RB Darrell Bridges some time off.  Until the Florida Tech game, PC hadn’t given up more than 300 yards passing in nearly three years and FIT made it look easy.  A year ago Bridges rushed for over 1,000 yards but was hampered by injuries toward the end of the season.  Currently, he is ahead of that pace in number of carries but well behind it in number of yards.

Best case scenario for PC – The Blue Hose come out of the open date re-energized and re-focused for their next opponent, Gardner-Webb.

Worst case scenario – With no game to play, the home loss to a D2 program erodes the team and their support.


(3-0) Fordham @ (2-2)  Monmouth – Saturday, Oct 1st, 1:00pm ( ESPN3, Big South Network)

After getting blown out by Charleston Southern at home – again –, Monmouth returns to the scene of the crime to take on a very strong program from Fordham.

Fordham enters the game at 2-1 with a legitimate win over Penn in the books along with a loss to FBS Navy and an absolute 80-point pasting of D2 Elizabeth City State.  Monmouth and Fordham met a year ago at FU’s Jack Coffey Field and the Rams just ran roughshod over the visiting Hawks.  Fordham QB Kevin Anderson threw for more than 300 yards and RB Chase Edmonds added another hundred on the ground as Fordham took care of Monmouth 54-31.

Fordham returns both Anderson and Edmonds this season.  The Rams’ offensive numbers are a little skewed thus far on the season due to playing a good FBS and a bad D2 but the Penn game shows that the Fordham offense is pretty balanced run/pass, so Monmouth will have to deal with both equally on defense.

Monmouth comes into this game having won their first two games but now having lost two straight and needing answers on offense as well as a really good cloning program on defense.  Monmouth’s offense is built around rushing the football and a short, precision passing game.  With RB Lavon Chaney hampered by injury, Monmouth’s offense went just north of nowhere against CSU a week ago.  Part of that was the effectiveness of the CSU defense but part of it was also that Monmouth doesn’t have a real substitute for Chaney.  RBs Zach Welch and Ed Royds have tried to fill the void but simply aren’t the dynamic runner that Chaney is.   On defense, S Mike Basile was and continues to be an outstanding player.  The only problem is that there’s only one of him and no one else in the MU secondary comes close to his level of play.  Last Saturday, CSU seemed content to simply move the ball wherever Basile wasn’t.

What Monmouth has to do against Fordham:  Protect the end zone, not the field.  A year ago, Monmouth tried to pressure the Rams and they responded by scoring on big play after big play.  If Monmouth can be OK with giving up the midfield yardage, they can use the condensed space of the red zone to bog Fordham down and make them settle for field goals.  Offensively, the run game as it is isn’t working so they may as well open up the passing game with either quarterback, Cody Williams or Kenji Bahar.

Best case scenario for Monmouth against Fordham – Monmouth controls the tempo and field position of the game.  If the Hawks can turn this into a war of attrition, they have a chance.

Worst case scenario – Getting blown out at home two weeks in a row.  MU only has three home games on the year but, unfortunately, they’ve come against two of the stronger teams on the schedule.


(2-1) Kennesaw State @ (0-4) Furman– Saturday, Oct 1st  3:00pm EST (ESPN3)

Kennesaw takes to the buses for the first time this year and heads over to Greenville, SC to visit their neighbors at Furman University.  This will be the KSU’s first ever game against a non-scholarship opponent that offers at or near the full FCS limit of 63 scholarships.  Every other OOC game in the school’s history to this point has been against either lower division or limited scholarship programs.

Furman comes into this game as probably the best completely winless team in the country. The Paladins have had the misfortune of playing a top-25 FBS team (Michigan State), two top-25 FCS teams (Chattanooga & The Citadel) and a transitional FBS team (Coastal Carolina) to start the season.  With the exception of Coastal, Furman has played each of their opponents tough but, ultimately, have lost all four.  Furman has been hampered by injuries at the quarterback position and haven’t been very good at running the ball.  Other than that, their offensive and defensive numbers have been extremely even with their very high levels of competition.  It seems odd to say but the remaining two months of the season may be Furman’s easiest portion of the schedule, starting this week with Kennesaw State.

Kennesaw comes into this game in an effort to prove a). that I am a liar and Furman’s schedule is not any easier this week and b). that KSU is prepared to compete with the rest of FCS.  Last week, KSU quickly developed an offensive strategy of waiting for the Duquesne quarterback to throw the ball to the wrong-colored jersey, running the ball into the line on first and second down and then, on third down, throwing the ball up in the air for WR Justin Sumpter to go get.  And, if he didn’t catch it on third down, they just tried it again on fourth down.  That worked against limited scholarship Duquesne but that’s probably not going to be as effective against a tradition-rich program like Furman.  There’s also the question of who exactly KSU would have throwing the ball.  Third-team QB Daniel David performed well Saturday after second-team QB Chandler Burks’ face became suddenly and intimately familiar with the playing surface and he was forced to leave the game.  First-team QB Trey White has now missed three weeks with an adductor injury with no return date set in sight.  If Burks is cleared from what was at least an obvious concussion, then the Owls are in a good spot.  If not, it’ll be curious to see who KSU digs out of the inventory to be the backup to David.  There are five QB’s on the Kennesaw roster, one of whom is a true freshman that we can probably assume is being redshirted.  The other is redshirt junior Jantzen Jeffrey whose team headshot makes him look like an extra from the barfight scene in every 80’s karate movie.  KSU’s other QB option – no pun intended – is current starting FB Jake McKenzie who served as Trey White’s backup a year ago.

What Kennesaw has to do against Furman – Protect the football and protect the quarterback.  Kennesaw turned the ball over three times against Duquesne and were fortunate that only of them resulted in points for the Dukes.  Officially, Burks only took two sacks but Duquesne was all over him on every play.

Best case scenario for Kennesaw against Furman – No turnovers and KSU survives their fourth game of the year without using their fourth quarterback of the year.

Worst case scenario for Kennesaw against Furman – The game turns into a passing contest.  You wouldn’t normally think that’s likely from a triple-option team but that’s exactly what happened against DU.  But, FU is not DU.  Sumpter is an impressive weapon for KSU, he’s the Owls’ only proven target.  Furman has a greater variety of receiving options and two quarterbacks who have a lot more experience in the passing game.


(2-2)    Charleston Southern @ (3-1)   Coastal Carolina – Saturday, Sept 24th, 6:00pm (Chanticleer Sports Network)

While Coastal is no longer a member of the Big South Conference, they aren’t playing a Sun Belt schedule yet either.  Desperate to fill out their 2016 schedule, Coastal agreed to shell out a series of modest paydays that will see them play nearly all of their former conference mates once again this season.  As a result, this game against Charleston Southern, which had routinely been a rivalry contest with conference title implications played in mid-November, is now just another pay-for-play game on the first day of October.

Coastal isn’t at the full FBS allotment of scholarships yet but they do enjoy a depth advantage on most of their FCS opponents this season as well as an existing skill advantage on them.  However, against Jacksonville State two weeks ago, Coastal lost their starting quarterback for the season.  Subsequently, they went through three more QB’s in that game with none of them particularly effective so there was a real question as to what or who their solution was going to be.  After their most recent game against Furman, the answer to that question may be that they don’t need one.  Coastal got two touchdowns on special teams, another from the defense and 180 yards rushing and a touchdown from RB DeAngelo ‘Hop’ Henderson on their way to a 41-21 victory over hapless Furman.

CSU comes into this game after putting a thorough second-half pummeling on Monmouth.  Monmouth held the Buccaneers’ offense largely in check during the first half, due in part to some shaky play on the part of the CSU quarterbacks.  In the second half, however, it seemed that CSU made a concerted effort to get the quarterbacks out of the way and put the ball in the hands of their true playmakers, their running backs.

It will be interesting to see how Charleston Southern approaches this game.  CSU is 5-8 all-time against Coastal but have won two of the last three and there has, historically, been a great deal of bad blood between the two programs.  (**Just get a Coastal fan and a CSU fan in the same room, mention the words “Super Safety” and watch what happens.  It’s good entertainment.**)  However, with no other implications on the line and an all-important conference game already in hand, there has to be a slightly lower sense of significance this week.  On the other hand, should CSU slip up in conference, this will likely be their last opportunity to earn a quality non-conference win.

CSU still really hasn’t answered the question of who is the quarterback.  Shane Bucenell started last week against Monmouth but bowed out after a few series to Robert Mitchell.  Mitchell engineered CSU’s only touchdown drive of the first half but it was Bucenell who got the start after halftime and stayed in for the majority of the remainder of the game.  By the time, Mitchell came back in in the fourth quarter, the game was already well in hand.

What Charleston Southern needs to do against Coastal Carolina:  Attack.  Offensively, they gain nothing by letting their QB’s try to pick Coastal apart.  Defensively for CSU, Coastal’s fourth quarterback, Tyler Keane, is the starter now and, even if they shut down Henderson, the worst thing CSU can do is sit back and let Keane get into a rhythm.

Best case scenario for Charleston Southern – Turnovers aplenty.  The best way to neutralize the Coastal offense is to take the ball away and lock it in a safe place, i.e., the hands of the CSU running backs.

Worst case scenario for Charleston Southern – Revenge.  Most of the seniors on this Coastal team remember losing to CSU last year in a game that cost the Chanticleers their #1 ranking and, combined with a later loss to Liberty, their last shot at a conference title and a playoff seed in their last shot at a national title.  If Coastal goes off, this could get ugly.


(3-1) Benedict @ (1-3) Gardner-Webb  – Saturday, Oct. 1st, 6:00pm (Big South Network)

Gardner-Webb returns home for an evening date with the Benedict Tigers.  Benedict hails from D2 and the SIAC conference, a group that should be somewhat familiar to Big South fans by now.  In an odd coincidence, of the six games against D2 competition in the Big South this year, four of those opponents come from the SIAC.

In any event, Benedict was 0-10 in 2015 and carried a 12-game losing streak into 2016.  This year, however, Benedict has flipped the script and currently sits at 3-1 thanks in large part to a stifling defense.  The Tigers won their opening game by the whopping score of 5-3 and haven’t given up more than 19 points in a game this season.  They haven’t been all that superior to their opponents statistically but they are doing a fantastic job of defending the goal line, giving up only three touchdowns this year in the red zone.  Offensively, Benedict is all about running the ball and controlling the clock.  Their two leading rushers on the year are RB’s George Myers, Jr and Jeremy Johnson.  I bet you didn’t know:  Myers is 5’6” and weighs 175 pounds while Johnson is 5’11”, 270.  Standing next to each other, they must look like half a set of Russian nesting dolls.

Gardner-Webb comes into the game fresh off a visit to Ohio University where they were beaten soundly despite not playing poorly.  Ohio was so mechanically relentless in pressing their size and depth advantages that Gardner-Webb was powerless to put up much of a fight. This game against Benedict represents G-W’s final tune-up before conference play begins next week.  While Gardner-Webb hasn’t been anything special on defense so far this year, they should have enough in the tank to handle Benedict’s offense easily.  The question will be, can Gardner-Webb score touchdowns on the Tigers’ defense? Against Ohio, Gardner-Webb got to run their offense, especially in the second half when the OU backups were in.  QB Tyrell Maxwell’s rushing numbers were down but his passing numbers were up which is a very encouraging sign for the Bulldogs.

What Gardner-Webb has to do against Ohio:  Don’t take the lower-division team lightly again.  In the last two years, Gardner-Webb struggled mightily to beat D2 Virginia Union and looked completely unimpressive in a win over Virginia University-Lynchburg.  They should beat Benedict handily but, with a 1-3 record, G-W doesn’t have the luxury of phoning this one in.

Best case scenario for Gardner-Webb against Ohio – Gardner-Webb’s offense proves efficient in the red zone.  That will take away Benedict’s greatest strength and will decide the game in the Bulldogs’ favor.

Worst case scenario for Gardner-Webb – Give up defensive touchdowns.  G-W’s defense should be enough to stop Benedict when they have the ball but, if Benedict’s defense is scoring, this could be a bad day for the home team.


(1-3) Robert Morris @ (1-3) Liberty– Saturday, Oct. 1st  7:00pm EST (ESPN3, LFSN)

After playing two obviously FBS teams in Virginia Tech and SMU and a team that may as well have been FBS in Jacksonville State all within the first three weeks of the season, Liberty is desperately in need of a “get-right” game before the bye week.

Enter, Robert Morris.

The Colonials of Robert Morris University will arrive in Lynchburg out of the NEC conference.  The two teams have met twice before.  In 2010, a ranked Flames team – fresh off the school’s first-ever victory over an FBS program just a week earlier – rolled into Moon Township, PA and promptly fell flat on their collective burning face as the Colonials pulled off a last-second upset win.  RMU would go on to the playoffs that season with the NEC’s first auto-bid and get blown out by NDSU in the first round.  A year later, LU did exact a measure of revenge beating Bobby Mo by 30 points in Lynchburg but the two programs haven’t played each other since.

This time around, the Robert Morris program is vastly different.  When longtime RMU coach Joe Walton retired after the 2013 season, assistant head coach and local Pittsburgh Steelers legend John Banaszak was named his successor.  Under Banaszak, the Colonials hallmarks have been defense and special teams – which they have been occasionally good at – but, apparently, at the expense of the offense – which has not been good at any point.  Thus far this season, RMU has had to deal with injuries at the quarterback position (that is just going to be a theme this year, isn’t it?) and multiple weather delays that have served to only exacerbate the ineffectiveness of their offense.  Examples:

  • Already down their starting quarterback to a practice injury for the opening game, RMU scored on the opening kickoff of the season but almost immediately lost the backup quarterback to injury and did not score again. They lost that game to D2 Alderson-Broaddus 14-7.
  • The following week at Dayton, RMU started a converted freshman safety at QB with poor results. Down 13-0 in the 50th minute, the game was delayed for over two hours due to lightning and, eventually, called completely. At that point, RMU had just over 60 yards of total offense for the game.
  • At Youngstown the week after that, the game was, again, delayed due to weather concerns. Once play resumed, the Colonials finally scored an offensive touchdown for the first time this year on a trick play.  This was the only bright spot as the Penguins held RMU to negative rushing yards on 25 attempts.

By contrast, Liberty’s issues at quarterback this year have been self-inflicted rather than injury-related.  Starting QB Stephon Masha has been, at best, inconsistent against every opponent other than Jacksonville and the Liberty coaching staff made the decision this week to turn over the reins of the offense to true freshman signal-caller Steven Calvert.  Calvert has already gotten quite a bit of playing time this season, partly by design and partly due to Masha’s erratic play.  In places, he has looked sharp and every bit the highly-recruited athlete that he was out of high school and, in other places, he has looked like the true freshman that he is.  Either way, naming Calvert the starter going into this game with a bye week on the other side should allow Calvert to gain valuable starting experience going into conference play. Defensively, RMU doesn’t present nearly the challenge that any of the Flames’ first four opponents have, however, the difficulty factor should go up a bit with the return of the Colonials’ (original) starting quarterback from injury.

What Liberty has to do against Robert Morris – Run the ball and allow Calvert to get settled in.  Despite the up-tempo nature of the offense, Liberty’s identity is still built around an ability to run the ball.  When the offense has struggled is when they’ve been unable to do that.

Best case scenario for Liberty against Robert Morris – There’s a sizeable talent gap here so simple consistency from the offense and defense should win the day.

Worst case scenario for Liberty – Liberty gives up special teams touchdowns.  Despite their offensive woes, RMU has run two kicks back for score on the year and LU just gave one up last week to Jacksonville State.  If the RMU defense can manage to keep the score down, special teams plays will become a huge factor.

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I've followed the Big South Conference football programs from since before the conference picked up the sport. I believe that numbers, statistics and trends are a lot more interesting than what your head coach said at the last booster luncheon. Sometimes, I use big words because big words are fun to say out loud. Less often, I know what those big words mean. My opinion is my own and has been developed by time and evidence. It can only be changed by hard cash.

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