CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern meets Wofford College in the first round of the FCS Playoffs on Saturday. Kickoff at Gibbs Stadium in Spartanburg, S.C., is slated for 2 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3. Fans can also listen to coverage on csusports.com.
The matchup pits strength against strength as both teams thrive behind option running games and stout defenses. CSU won its second straight Big South Conference championship thanks in large to part to the nation's sixth-ranked rushing attack and ninth-best total defense. Wofford finished tied for second in the Southern Conference, returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 by ranking top-five in both of those same categories (4th total defense; 5th rushing offense).
The winner of Saturday's clash advances to play The Citadel, the No. 6 national seed, in next week's second round. CSU head coach Jamey Chadwell knows the Bucs will have earned it if they are to continue playing into the month of December.
"They're extremely talented, especially up front, on both sides of the ball," said Chadwell of a Wofford team that won its final four games to earn a spot in the 24-team playoff field. "They're not gonna beat themselves. You're not gonna surprise them with anything. They're well-coached and to beat 'em, you've gotta beat 'em. It'll be a big challenge."
Defensively, CSU will look to continue its success against the triple option. In four games against The Citadel and Kennesaw State (all wins) over the last two years, the Bucs have allowed just 47 total points while yielding only 3.7 yards per carry. The opponent has been held below 200 yards rushing in all of those contests.
To stop Wofford's triple option game, CSU will have to contain fullback Lorenzo Long, the SoCon's leading rusher. Long has recorded eight 100-yard rushing efforts en route to 1,194 yards and 14 touchdowns. Will Gay, the Terriers' second-leading rusher, is one of their speedier threats, averaging nearly seven yards per carry. Quarterback Brandon Goodson was Wofford's third-string signal caller in fall camp but has played well in place of the injured Evan Jacks and Brad Butler.
Possessions figure to be limited against a Wofford club that is third nationally in average time of possession, at 34:16 per game. The Terriers are also +8 in the turnover margin, as opposed to -1 for the Bucs. CSU did not commit a single turnover, and intercepted four passes, in its conference-clinching win over Kennesaw State last week.
Making good decisions and getting the ball to the likes of Mike Holloway, Darius Hammond and Kameron Brown will be important for CSU redshirt freshman quarterback Shane Bucenell in his playoff debut. Bucenell went 6-1 as the Bucs' starter and finished as runner-up for Big South Freshman of the Year. He appeared to peak at season's end, throwing three touchdown passes in the road rout of Liberty before playing efficiently in the victory over Kennesaw State.
"I think he's understanding that he doesn't have to be great," said Chadwell of Bucenell. "He just has to get us where we need to be because he's got good playmakers around him. He's more comfortable in what he's doing and has played in must-win games, really, the last two weeks, so it won't be too new."
Bucenell and the Bucs' offense will have to deal with a Wofford defense that has keyed its resurgence. All-conference defensive ends Miles Brown and Tyler Vaughn, along with freshman nose guard Mikel Horton, pace a powerful front-seven. Wofford is second nationally in rushing defense and has held all but two opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground.
Two of the nation's best special teams players could also play pivotal roles in what may be a low scoring game. CSU's Darius Hammond, the Big South Special Teams Player of the Year, leads the nation in kick return average. Wofford placekicker David Marvin has made five field goals of over 50 yards, and is one of two punters that helped the Terriers lead the nation in net punting.
CAREER DAYS FOR SOPHOMORE D-LINEMEN
Defensive tackle Noah Oliver finished with a team-high 11 tackles in the KSU win. Nose guard Johnny Robinson had a career day as well, with nine stops. The Bucs' front seven frustrated the Owls' quarterbacks and array of speedy backs for much of the day.
MAKING MARK AGAINST RIVALS
CSU is 10-2 against its three chief rivals under Jamey Chadwell. The Bucs are 4-0 against The Citadel (including a win in last year's FCS Playoffs) and 3-1 against both Coastal Carolina and Liberty. CSU's combined record against those programs prior to Chadwell's arrival was 6-30.
THE ROAD IS NO DETERRENT
CSU is 16-8 on the road under Chadwell and an even more impressive 16-4 against FCS competition. The Bucs set a single-season Big South record with six road wins in 2013, stringing together five victories away from home during an unexpected 7-0 start to the campaign. To start this season, CSU nearly ended NDSU's then 42-game non-conference home winning streak, a stretch that spans 13 years. The win over Liberty was CSU's seventh straight in Big South play, tying a league record.
BIG PLAY HOLLOWAY
Mike Holloway leads the nation in yards per carry and it's not close. With an average of 8.8 yards per touch, Holloway is over a yard ahead of second-place Tarik Cohen of North Carolina A&T (7.63 YPC). Holloway led the Big South in yards per carry last season and averages a gaudy 7.8 YPC for his career.
BIG PLAY KAM
Redshirt freshman wideout Kameron Brown leads the country in yards per catch, averaging 21.52 yards on 23 receptions. Brown pulled in a brilliant one-handed 37-yard touchdown catch in the KSU win. He is the biggest reason CSU ranks second nationally in yards per completion. Brown ranks fourth in the Big South in receiving yards per game despite having 20 less catches than anyone in the top three.