CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern looks to match the program record for wins in a season on Saturday against Presbyterian. Kickoff at Bailey Memorial Stadium in Clinton, S.C. is set for 2 p.m.
The Bucs hit the road for the seventh time in ten weeks at 8-1 and armed with the highest ranking in school history. CSU moved up six spots to No. 18 in the FCS Coaches Poll following its 36-14 win over Charlotte last Saturday, and also entered The Sports Network Poll for the first time ever, pulling in at No. 24.
First-year head coach Jamey Chadwell and the Bucs are paying little attention to those accolades, though, as the Presbyterian matchup starts a stretch of four straight Big South games to end the regular season.
The Blue Hose struggled to a 1-4 start, but have since won two straight behind an offense that has compiled over 500 yards in both victories. Like CSU, PC is 1-0 in Big South play, with a win over VMI.
"We try to focus more so on when the stakes are higher and you get into conference and people start recognizing some of the things you have done, you have to keep doing the things that got you to that point," said Chadwell of CSU's mindset. "We're more concerned with what we can continue to do, not what we have done."
CSU played one of its more complete games of the campaign against Charlotte, tallying a season-high 548 yards of offense while holding a potent 49ers' offense to just 305 yards. The Bucs once again excelled thanks to their ball-control offense, churning out a season-high 375 yards rushing en route to posting a 41:22-18:38 advantage in time of possession.
Junior running back Christian Reyes led the way with a career-high 181 yards on 26 carries, moving past Vinson Blain for the CSU single-season rushing record on his first touch of the day. Reyes sits tenth nationally with 953 yards. The junior workhorse received help from freshman Michael Holloway, who was named Big South Freshman of the Week following a career-best 81-yard performance that included his first touchdown.
At quarterback, Danny Croghan III returned to the lineup after missing the Colorado game, and threw for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow freshman Kyle Copeland also gave the Bucs a spark, directing the first touchdown drive of the day and finishing with two scores on the ground. The freshman duo has been solid in trying to replace the production of senior Malcolm Dixon, who was injured in the Bucs' win at Appalachian State.
"They both bring such different variables to the table," said Chadwell of his two quarterbacks. "They feed off each other and they're competitive, but they also want each other to do well and they've made it work. We have a plan of when we want to plug Kyle in and what we want to do with him and he's comfortable with those things. I think it also settles Danny down too because he knows 'hey, no matter what, Kyle's coming in.' It's a challenge for opponents' to prepare for."
The Bucs' swarming defense has proven difficult for opponents to handle as well, and the unit produced perhaps its best performance of the year against Charlotte. CSU held the 49ers to just 81 yards rushing and less than three yards a carry, and limited Charlotte to 3-of-12 on third-down conversions. Three big fourth quarter defensive plays allowed the Bucs to turn a close game into a runaway with 15 unanswered points. Dylan Black delievered a safety to start the surge, while Adam Witzmann intercepted a pass and Caleb Batchelor recovered a fumble to set up touchdowns.
CSU's defense figures to be tested against a Presbyterian offense that has been revitalized by its own freshman quarterback. True freshman Heys McMath entered the starting lineup in PC's Big South opener against VMI two weeks ago and passed for 322 yards and two touchdowns. McMath was efficient in the Blue Hose 49-19 blowout of Point last week, meanwhile, going 9-of-10 for 160 yards and two more scores.
Junior wideout Tobi Antigha has been McMath's favorite target, snaring nine passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for two scores. Antigha has 30 receptions for the season and is averaging 15.9 yards per catch.
PC has also showcased a strong ground game at times this season, and comes off a 341-yard rushing day against Point. Junior Demarcus Rouse is the Blue Hose leading rusher with 379 yards and seven touchdowns. Redshirt senior Blake Roberts is also a threat, entering play with 303 yards and a 7.2 yard per carry average.
"I think Coach Nichols has done a good job with them," Chadwell said of the job fifth-year Presbyterian head coach Harold Nichols has done. "They've sort of rallied the troops a little bit after they had been down, and this freshman quarterback has come in and given them a jolt of energy."
"They're really good on special teams and have created a lot of plays in that area so that's going to be a challenge," Chadwell said of a PC special teams corps that ranks fourth nationally in punt returns behind junior return man Jeremiah McKie. "McMath has done a lot of good things. He's got a big arm and is very active back in the pocket so he brings another dimension that we probably haven't seen the last few weeks.
"Defensively, their coach does a good job of mixing up coverages and they're pretty sound. They've played their best couple of games of the year the last couple. Any time - as you know with our team - you play well and win you get confidence and they have that right now."