BIG SOUTH: Week 9 Review

(5-2) Charleston Southern 49,    (3-5) Bucknell 28                             

Ninth-ranked CSU got the day started off early with an 11:45am kickoff in a late non-conference date with visiting Bucknell out of the Patriot League.  On paper, this looked like an extreme mismatch but that’s not the way it started off.

Bucknell has struggled on offense this season but their first drive of the day gave no indication of that.  The Bison moved methodically down the field using a combination of runs and short passes.  CSU helped out as well by committing a couple of timely penalties – more on that later – that set Bucknell up in the red zone.  BU’s RJ Nitti hit receiver Jack Horan in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown and the visitors were up by a touchdown just three minutes and change into the game.

Not to be outdone, CSU responded quickly.  After a holding penalty wiped out a big gain for receiver Kam Brown, his counterpart on the other side of the formation, Saire Davis, got his man turned around on a deep post route and QB Shane Bucenell hit him down the middle of the field for a 59-yard score to even things up.

The teams traded punts from mid-field for the rest of the first quarter.  However, CSU buckled down at the start of the second and pieced together a 12-play 99-yard haul.  The drive culminated with Brown beating his man in single coverage and Bucenell hitting him in stride at the Bucknell 15.  From there, it was one broken tackle and Brown walked into the end zone to put the home team ahead.

Bucknell could not respond and CSU went back to work.  This possession was virtually a carbon copy of the previous one as the Bucs marched 80 yards this time. From Bucknell’s 13, Bucenell again found Brown in an open gap in zone coverage to score.  That put the home team up 21-7 and it looked for all the world like the game was getting away from the Bison, especially after CSU forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with just under two minutes to go in the half and all the momentum going into the break.

However,  Bucenell’s pass over the middle was picked off by Bucknell’s Connor Golden and he brought it back across midfield to set up his offense at the CSU 40-yard line.  After receiver Kyle Kinner got behind the CSU coverage and caught a deep ball from Nitti down to the CSU 2, the Bison quickly put the ball into the end zone with a short pass to tight end Andrew Owers.  Instead of going into halftime up 28-7, the Bucs were now only ahead 21-14.

CSU came out of the locker room – possibly too fired up – and immediately went to work endangering the Bison.  In Bucknell territory, Bucenell initially kept the ball on an option play around the right end before pitching it laaaaaate to RB Mike Holloway who tiptoed down the sideline and into the end zone for an apparent touchdown.  However, the play was overturned on review that showed that the late pitch was actually a forward pass and the play was brought back.  To make matters worse, Bucenell went down with an injury on the play and did not return to the game.  Fortunately for CSU, back-up quarterback London Johnson was ready.  Much as he did nearly two full months ago when Bucenell and then-starter Kyle Copeland went down with injuries against Kentucky State, Johnson entered the game and completed the drive, calling his own number from five yards out to push the Bucs’ lead out to 14 again.

Despite losing their quarterback, the CSU offense was still clicking; the defense, however, quickly proved to be its own worst enemy.  On Bucknell’s first play from scrimmage, CSU LB Solomon Brown nearly ripped the jersey off of a Bucknell offensive lineman and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.  On the very next play, nose tackle Johnny Robinson threw a punch at a different Bucknell offensive lineman drawing another unsportsmanlike foul and an ejection for Robinson.  BU had, to that point in the possession, gained five yards of actual offense and thirty yards of penalties thanks to the behavior of the CSU defenders.  After all that, Bucknell still did not score on the drive but were in excellent field position to punt and pin the Buccaneers deep in their own territory.  After fielding the ball at their own 8-yard line – but pushed back to the 4 thanks to another penalty during the punt – CSU’s Johnson trotted back onto the field, ready to drive the field again.  Didn’t happen.

On the first play of the possession, Johnson misread his backs and pitched the ball into the shoulder of the blocking back instead of the pitch man.  The ball hit the turf and Bucknell fell on it at CSU’s 2.  *Ironically, in contrast to earlier, this play was initially ruled an incomplete forward pass but was overturned on replay.*  Bucknell RB Chad Freshnock body-surfed over the line and splashed into the end zone on the next play and the Bison were back within a touchdown.

That, however, would be the end of the drama.  The Bucs knuckled down and overcame another penalty on their next possession as Johnson hit Davis for his second touchdown catch of the day from 32 yards out.  The defense held Bucknell to three-and-out and, after getting the ball back, Johnson engineered another drive, ultimately keeping it from 20 yards for also his second touchdown.

Bucknell made one more try to get back into the game at the start of the fourth quarter.  They put together a complete drive – taking advantage of two more CSU penalties – that covered 13 plays and 69 yards and ended with Freshnock again diving into the end zone from a yard away.  That, however, was the effective end of the competition.  The two quarterbacks traded 4th-quarter interceptions and Holloway scored from a yard out for CSU to provide the final margin.

What does this win mean for Charleston Southern? – It was an ugly win and sloppy in every respect.  Despite more than doubling up the Bison in offensive yardage 548-242, CSU let Bucknell hang around thanks to three turnovers and 15 penalties for 131 yards.  It was the kind of undisciplined play more reminiscent of head coach Jamey Chadwell’s first year in 2013 when the Bucs’ players had first learned they could be good but had not yet learned how to be successful.  To that end, however, Chadwell wasn’t there on Saturday.  He and the CSU staff picked this game to serve an NCAA compliance-mandated suspension for a Level III violation Just looking at the broadcast, the CSU team was notably chippy even when up by multiple scores against an obviously inferior opponent so whatever calming and focusing influence Chadwell must provide on the CSU sideline was notably absent.  Still, a win is a win. It was also a win CSU had to have simply because, without a significant FCS win available on the schedule, a loss to lowly Bucknell could have doomed CSU’s at-large chances.


(6-2) Kennesaw State 49, (4-5) Monmouth 17   

In the last game ever played at Monmouth’s Kessler Field, it seemed almost as if everyone was waiting for the third quarter to see how the game would really play out.  Given Kennesaw’s recent propensity for stalling on offense in the second half and Monmouth’s recent inclination to second half heroics, that idea seemed like a sure bet.

Initially, however, it looked like each team was going to try to ball-control the other.  Starting in place of injured Cody Williams, Monmouth’s Kenji Bahar got his first career start under center and he got the Hawks going in the right direction.  MU’s first possession was a 14-play affair that took six minutes off the clock, ending with 38-yard field goal from Matt White to take an early 3-0 lead.  Kennesaw, for their part, took the ensuing kickoff and marched 11 plays in the opposite direction.  QB Trey White – who hasn’t started a game since Week 1 but has become KSU’s de facto goal line specialist – dove into the end zone from a few yards out to put the Owls up 7-3.

The two teams traded punts for the remainder of the quarter with Monmouth holding the ball as the first period came to an end.  However, on the first play of the 2nd quarter, Bahar was sacked on 3rd down and MU was forced to punt.  KSU got the ball at their own 19-yard line and KSU QB Chandler Burks spread the ball around to five different ball carriers including himself and receiver Justin Sumpter, in his first game action since being injured against Furman four weeks ago.  Chaston Bennett got the last carry, an 8-yard jaunt around the end for another KSU touchdown to put the visitors up 14-3.

Things only got worse for Monmouth on the next play.  KSU, as they do, brought pressure and linebacker Izzy Sam was the first man to get to Bahar.  Sam got the sack and also stripped the ball out in the process, allowing DE Desmond Johnson to scoop it up and run 30 yards completely untouched for a defensive touchdown.

Down 21-3, Monmouth found themselves in yet another early hole but, just as they had before, they found a way to battle back.  MU’s Darren Ambush returned the ensuing kickoff across midfield to the Kennesaw 35-yard line.  Two plays later, the Owls left Monmouth’s Reggie White, Jr in single coverage on an inside corner route which he beat easily.  Bahar hit him with a pass just in front of the front pylon and White stepped across the plane to make it 21-10 in favor of the visitors.

But, the Hawks weren’t done.  They held KSU to a three-and-out and, after the KSU punt went only 30 yards, Monmouth came roaring back again.  Another quick pass to White moved MU up to the KSU 24 where Bahar handed the ball to Lavon Chaney who skittered his way through traffic and bolted up the middle for a 24-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-17.

With the score differential now just four points, Monmouth nearly held Kennesaw again.  But, on 4th-and-1 from their own 34, KSU’s Chaston Bennett struck again getting around to the outside for a 39-yard gain that essentially flipped the field.  A few plays later, White bowled into the end zone from a yard out and the KSU advantage was back up to 11 points.  Monmouth could not put together a drive in the final 90 seconds of the half and the teams went into the halftime break with the question lingering of which team’s second half pattern would repeat, KSU going flat or Monmouth catching fire.

As it turned out, the answer was neither.  Kennesaw got the second half kick and promptly drove the length of the field in 10 plays.  Bennett did the end zone honors again, this time from four yards out. Monmouth was back in familiar territory, i.e., way behind, but could not respond this time.  Chaney’s run on 4th-and-3 failed to convert and KSU took over once again.  The Owls drove the field in earnest, 56 yards in 9 plays, and White achieved the trifecta, rushing for his third goal line touchdown of the day.  That marked the first time since facing Duquesne on September 24th that KSU had scored more than one second half touchdown against an FCS opponent.

For their part, the Owls’ defense stood tall in the second half.  Another 4th down stop on MU’s Chaney, led to yet another long drive for KSU and, with just over twelve minutes left in the game, yet another short touchdown run for Trey White.  It was his school-record 4th rushing touchdown of the day on just six carries.  Monmouth was effectively done but they went down swinging.  Bahar led the Hawks down the field as far as the Kennesaw 5-yard line but a 4th down pass fell short and KSU simply ran out the clock from there.

What does this win mean for Kennesaw? – Taking control of the game in the second half and putting away their opponent after taking a hefty lead is a welcome change for KSU.  Any win on the road is a good win and KSU has been especially good at that this year.  Odd fact:  Kennesaw is 2-2 at home this year but 4-0 on the road with their last road date being the season-ender at Charleston Southern.

What does this loss mean for Monmouth? – Monmouth is playing for pride at this point.  That’s the best thing I can say for them.  There are two games left separated by an open date on the schedule, both on the road (of course) and both against teams that will be favored.


(6-2) Coastal Carolina 48, (2-6) Presbyterian 17

Presbyterian hosted Coastal Carolina for homecoming this week which meant that 4,453 people got to see what futility looks like firsthand.  Presbyterian is in the midst of a nearly record-setting offensive slump and just doesn’t have the defense this year to back it up.  Going up against a high-octane tempo halfway-to-FBS offense in Coastal Carolina was going to be a challenge and it was.  Oh, yes.  It was.

Coastal got the scoring started straightaway on a 6-play, 75-yard drive that took just two minutes with a 38-yard strike from Coastal QB Tyler Keane to receiver Ky’Jon Tyler.  Instead of kicking the extra point, Coastal immediately ran to the line in a swinging gate formation and got the two-point conversion before PC was barely ready for the snap.  8-0 Coastal.

Presby returned the ensuing kickoff only as far as the Blue Hose’ own 14-yard line but it hardly mattered as the PC ball carrier immediately fumbled the ball away.  Coastal fell on it and, on the next play, Keane hit tight end Laquay Brown for another touchdown.  This time the Chanticleers kicked the point but, after just seven plays in two and a half minutes, the Blue Hose was already down 15-0.

But!! But!! But, Presbyterian would not fade out so quickly.  Presbyterian QB Ben Cheek, making his second return from injury of the year, and his cohorts reminded the home crowd that they had some pride left. Perhaps facing a defense a little too relaxed after jumping out to the early lead, Cheek ran and threw all over the CCU defense over the next several plays.  On 1st down from the Coastal 30, Cheek lofted a beautiful pass down the near sideline, just over the hands of the Coastal defender and just into the arms of PC’s Cedric Frazier. Then, when PC held Coastal to a punt on the next drive, it looked like Presby just might have a chance to scrap their way back into the game.

That didn’t happen.  Coastal held PC to a three-and-out punt and immediately raced right back down the field to score again and go up 23-7.  Cheek’s next pass was wildly inaccurate and picked off by a Coastal defender sitting on his knees.  That turned into another touchdown for Coastal to take a 30-7 lead with more than twelve minutes remaining in the first half.

However, PC changed tactics and went to the ground for their next possession and it paid off.  Eight straight runs by Cheek and running backs Darrell Bridges and Zola Davis covered 75 yards with Bridges taking the last 15 straight up the middle into the end zone.   The Blue Hose defense held Coastal once again and, getting the ball back, Presbyterian burned the last five full minutes of the half using a combination of runs and short passes to maneuver deep into Coastal territory and kick a field goal just before the break.  Presby had cut the lead to 30-17 and, set to receive the second half kickoff, it appeared that PC had given themselves a little hope.

But, once again, the Blue Hose managed to yank the carpet out from under themselves.  Cheek was picked off again on a deep throw downfield and, seven plays later, Coastal punched the ball in from two yards out and, again, promptly converted the two-point play.

That pretty much describes the rest of the game.  I could relate the specifics but the upshot was that Presby did not mount a scoring threat for the remainder of the game and Coastal did pretty much whatever they wanted, particularly on offense.

Coastal was 3-for-3 on two-point attempts and, operating substantially out of wildcat formations, rushed for 322 yards as a team.  As individuals, Coastal had two players, Kenneth Daniels and Jah-Maine Martin, rush for over 100 yards.  Due to the injury situation at running back for Coastal, Daniels was the Chants’ third back just a month ago and Jah-Maine Martin performance against PC came in only his second-ever college game after CCU was forced to burn his redshirt last week.  For their part, Presby gained only 57 yards in the second half and turned the ball over four times on the day.

What does this loss mean for Presbyterian? – Not much, really, other than an insult to the collective Blue Hose pride.  Given the course of the season, Presbyterian was an extremely long shot to win this game.  Given the roster turnover from last year, this was always going to be a re-building year for PC and going up against and FBS transitional team – on homecoming, no less – was surely a losing proposition.



(5-3) Liberty 23, (3-6) Gardner-Webb 20     OT

Easily the most competitive game of the weekend was almost the most significant to the conference standings.  Liberty had to win to stay in control of their own destiny and Gardner-Webb had to win to keep their slim Big South title hopes alive.  Both teams had put together huge offensive numbers in their last two outings but the core of both teams has been and remains their defense.  That’s what showed up Saturday.

In the early going, there was very little going.  Both teams traded punts to start the game.  On their second possession, Liberty’s Buckshot Calvert completed a 40-yard screen pass to running back Todd Macon that set Liberty up in the Gardner-Webb red zone.  Five plays later, it was Macon again taking the ball across the goal line.  When the Flames forced a punt on G-W’s next possession, for a brief moment, it looked like the Flames’ offensive juggernaut of the last few weeks was back in action.  But, the Bulldog D clamped down.

Calvert was sacked on 3rd down to end Liberty’s next drive.  Even though the LU defense again forced a GWU punt, the pattern was being set.  Calvert, a true freshman, was facing a live 3-4 defense for the first time in his career and he was clearly less confident against it.  On Liberty’s next drive, Calvert overthrew a simple screen pass on 3rd down and, receiving the punt, G-W and Calvert’s QB counterpart, Tyrell Maxwell, concocted the first real drive of the day for Gardner-Webb.  Maxwell and RB Khalil Lewis did the bulk of the work driving deep into Liberty territory but were eventually forced to settle for a 28-yard Paul Schumacher field goal.

Facing third down again on LU’s next possession, Calvert tried to fire a pass – and it was a bullet – into a gap in the G-W coverage only to have the ball tipped straight up in the air where three Bulldog defenders converged in a pile underneath it with LB Aaron Cook getting official credit for the interception.  That turned into another drive deep into Liberty terrain but ended in yet another Paul Schumacher field goal to make the score 7-6.

With just under two minutes in the half, Liberty had time for one more drive to get points.  However, they only got as far as the Flames’ 45-yard line whereupon Calvert was sacked again and LU elected to simply let the clock run out and take the second half kickoff.

That didn’t work out so well.  Calvert, to this point, has to be one of the two leading contenders for Big South Freshman of the Year but the other, Gardner-Webb CB Jaylan Foster, was who caught Calvert’s next pass.  Foster stuck his hands neatly in front of the intended receiver on the sideline, tiptoed back up the sideline and then dodged Calvert himself on his way to a pick-six and his second defensive score in as many weeks.  That put the visitors up 13-7 and, while the Liberty defense continued to hold, things continued to go sideways for young Calvert.  The Flames went three-and-out on both of the next two series with Calvert taking back-to-back sacks on the second one.  Fortunately, at that point, the Gardner-Webb offense had not been able to move past its own 25-yard line.  This would prove to be important.

Midway through the 3rd quarter, Gardner-Webb badly shanked a next punt from inside their own 20 and gave LU possession at their 33.  Five straight runs from Liberty RB Carrington Mosley set the Flames up at the G-W 12 for Alex Probert, another true freshman for Liberty, to bang home a field goal and cut the Bulldogs’ lead to just three points.

Kicking the ball back to Gardner-Webb, again the Liberty defense stood resolute, forcing yet another punt.  A quick facemask penalty moved LU across the midfield stripe and, as the 3rd quarter clock wound down, the home crowd could sense that the Flames were on a mission.  It quickly became obvious that Liberty and head coach Turner Gill would not be punting the ball on this possession.  Facing 4th-and-1 twice on the drive, the Flames converted both opportunities, including an 18-yard pass to tight end Kendall Couamin, to continue the drive.  The Bulldogs, however, eventually bowed up.  Faced with a Liberty 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, G-W forced an incomplete pass.  Probert came on and knocked through another short field goal that tied the game at 13-all with eleven minutes to play.

But, the Gardner-Webb offense still could not get traction.  Maxwell took his only sack of the day on first down and GWU was again forced to punt.  This kick was a rugby-style punt but it was also a low line drive and directly at Liberty’s return man, BJ Farrow.  Farrow took the kick in the air and was running the opposite direction well before any of the G-W cover men had reached him.  The result was a 22-yard punt return that set LU up at the G-W 41.  A few moments later, Calvert shook off his troubles against Jaylan Foster and the 3-4, lofting a ball to receiver Dante Shells down the home sideline into the back corner of the end zone.  It appeared that Shells and Foster had caught the ball at the same time but, by rule, simultaneous catch goes to the passing team and the touchdown for Liberty gave the Flames a 20-13 lead and with just under eight minutes to play.

That’s all the time Maxwell and Gardner-Webb would need.  With Khalil Lewis on the sidelines with flu-like symptoms, Maxwell put his team on his back and began a steady, disciplined march into the heart of the Flames defense.  Taking nearly five minutes off the clock, Maxwell, along with RB’s Jonathon Blackmon and Jayln Cagle took the bulk of the load.  Faced with a 4th-and-1 at the Liberty 19, Cagle drove into the pile for just enough yards to convert the first down.  Two plays later, Maxwell would fake the option pitch to his right and run straight up the middle from 8 yards out, diving into the end zone for what would, ultimately, be the tying score.

However, with newfound confidence and three minutes left to burn, Liberty went back to work.  The Flames moved all the way to the Gardner-Webb 22-yard line where, with just two seconds on the clock, they downed the ball in the middle of the field and called their last timeout.  Alex Probert who, just two weeks ago, had been perfect from 47, 50 and 47 yards against Kennesaw, lined up to take a 39-yard game-winning kick.  And then, Gardner-Webb’s head coach Carroll McCray, with all three timeouts still left in his pocket, called one.  The home crowd hooted and hollered, thirty seconds went by and Probert lined up to kick again.  McCray called timeout again.  The reaction from the crowd was a lot bigger this time but, again, the time ticked off and Probert lined up for the game winner.  And McCray called his last one, much to the delight of the home crowd who were now at a fevered roar – seriously, what did you expect, people? – but confident in the fact that, at least, the freshman was about to send the fans home happy.  But, icing the kicker worked.  Probert’s kick sailed very wide left and the two teams headed to overtime.

Liberty got the ball first in the extra period and gave it immediately to Macon.  Macon, who had left the game earlier with an unknown injury, got a tough eight yards to get the ball to the G-W 17 but Calvert’s 3rd-down pass went off the hands of his intended receiver.  Enter Probert.  After missing terribly from 39 just moments before, the freshman drilled the 34-yarder in overtime straight down the middle and gave the home team a 23-20 lead.

Gardner-Webb, however, were determined to go home with the win themselves.  A quick pass to the tight end got the Bulldogs six yards but Maxwell’s next two passes were well-defended and Paul Schumacher re-entered the game to even the score.  Earlier, in the second half, on Schumacher’s second field goal, the Flames block unit had gotten good penetration but had been unable to get a hand on the ball.  This time, from virtually the same spot on the field, the Liberty defenders would certainly be rushing hot.  And that’s what happened, the snap from center was a little high which made the kick a little low and 5’11” 225 linebacker Dexter Robbins – whose nickname is, honest to God, ‘The Tennessee Ninja’ – bowled through the line and got a hand up in front of the ball, sending it ricocheting the wrong direction.

What does this win mean for Liberty? – Liberty absolutely had to win this game to claim a spot at the top of the Big South standings and to keep any hope of the postseason alive.  It’s also a massive confidence boost to a defense that, historically, has struggled with mobile quarterbacks just like Maxwell and had also given up a lot of yardage over the last several weeks.  Thirdly, there has to be a sense of vindication coming from behind to beat a team that Liberty lost to at their place a year ago.

What does this loss mean for Gardner-Webb? – Gardner-Webb is effectively out of the conference title race.  This loss puts them a game back of Kennesaw State whom they lost to a week ago and, even in the wildest of tiebreaking scenarios, would lose out to KSU.  Outside of that, it’s yet another in a series of “so close” breakthrough games for the Bulldogs.


Biggest surprise of the week:  1A) Liberty’s and Gardner-Webb’s defenses holding each other to a combined 500 yards of offense after each giving up that much or nearly that much the week prior; 1B) the play and resiliency of the true freshmen who took center stage in the same game: Calvert and Probert for Liberty and Foster for Gardner-Webb.

Biggest disappointment of the week:  Charleston Southern’s lack of poise in a game they were winning by double digits.


Big South Standings:

Liberty                                                                         3-0       1.000               5-3 overall

Charleston Southern                                                2-0       1.000               5-2 overall

Kennesaw State                                                         2-1       0.666               6-2 overall

Gardner-Webb                                                           1-2       0.333               3-6 overall

Presbyterian                                                               1-2       0.333               2-6 overall

Monmouth                                                                 0-4       0.000               4-5 overall

  • Liberty moves a half-game into first by virtue of winning a conference game and CSU playing OOC. Liberty has one more game (@ Presbyterian) before hosting CSU in what is shaping up to be the de facto conference championship game on November 12th.  CSU, by contrast, has one more conference game before (Gardner-Webb) and one to play after (Kennesaw).
  • Kennesaw keeps their slim title hopes alive. All other things being equal, should CSU win at Liberty and Kennesaw win at CSU, it would force a three-way tie for the Big South autobid.  This exact scenario has happened way more often in the Big South (2010, 2012) than one would think likely with the ultimate tiebreakers at times being something as random as defensive points allowed in conference games or road conference wins.  That last one won’t work this time since not everyone plays the same number of road games.
  • Gardner-Webb is out of the title picture but can still play spoiler. They face CSU in North Charleston this week.
  • The same can be said for Presbyterian hosting Liberty this weekend.

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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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