Weekend Preview: CSU opens Big South play Saturday at Presbyterian

Weekend Preview: CSU opens Big South play Saturday at Presbyterian

CHARLESTON, S.C. - The Buccaneers open their Big South title defense this weekend as the Bucs make the trip to Clinton, S.C. and Presbyterian College for the conference opener for both teams. The Bucs take on host PC on Stadium with kickoff set for noon ET.

Gates open at 10:30 a.m. with all game day information available on the Game Day Central Page.

CSU Notes | Presbyterian Notes | Big South Notes

Charleston Southern enters Big South play as winners of 13 of their last 14 conference games dating back to CSU's final three games of the 2014 season. The stretch includes a perfect 6-0 run through conference play in the 2015 championship season, as well as a 4-1 mark last year in Big South play. The Bucs' lone blemish during the stretch came at the hands of Gardner-Webb last season at Buccaneer Field on November 5, as the Runnin' Bulldogs took the 17-10 win over CSU. CSU's stretch began with three straight conference wins over Monmouth, Gardner-Webb, and Liberty at the end of the 2014 season. 

The Bucs have moved to 1-0 following their conference openers in each of the last two seasons as CSU topped Monmouth at home in the 2015 opener, 37-7, and the Hawks on the road last season on September 24, 35-7. Over the two games, the Bucs defense limited Monmouth to 375 yards and 23 first downs in a pair of dominant displays over the Hawks. The Bucs' last conference opening loss came in the 2014 season at the hands of the Blue Hose in Charleston, S.C., 7-3. 

The Bucs improved to 2-2 last season following their conference opening win over Monmouth in West Long Branch, N.J. in the 2016 season. CSU rushed for 322 yards and scored touchdowns on its first four second-half possessions to hand Monmouth a convincing defeat for the third straight year. The Blue Swarm defense thwarted the Hawks' spread attack, limiting them to less than two yards per rush while piling up nine tackles for loss. Mike Holloway was the difference maker in the contest with 151 yards on 11 attempts and added a 63-yard touchdown reception to finish off the Bucs' second-half onslaught.

Charleston Southern is 6-9 overall in Big South Conference openers dating back to the 2002 season when the conference started football play. CSU endured a five-year losing streak from the 2009-2012 seasons with losses to Liberty, Gardner-Webb (twice), VMI, and Stony Brook during the span before the Bucs ended the streak with a 25-17 win over the Keydets on Oct.12, 2013. The Bucs have won three of their last four conference openers counting the win over VMI with the lone blemish coming at home against PC in 2014, 7-3. 

CSU has been .500 or better in Big South Conference play in each of the past five seasons and boasts an impressive 20-9 mark against conference competition since the 2012 season. The Bucs went 3-3 in the 2012 season and then turned the corner under former head coach Jamey Chadwell as the Bucs went 4-3 (2013), 3-2 (2014), 6-0 (2015), and 4-1 (2016), over the last four years. CSU has gone a perfect 3-0 against Monmouth over the stretch and 2-0 against Kennesaw State. The Bucs are 3-2 against Gardner-Webb, 4-1 against Presbyterian, and 3-2 against Liberty over the last five years.

Charleston Southern and Kennesaw State have been installed as Big South Conference preseason co-favorites, it was announced at the league's annual Football Media Day. CSU and Kennesaw State each received nine first-place votes and 80 total points in the poll conducted by the league's head coaches and a media panel. It is the first time two teams have tied for the top spot in the preseason poll. CSU and Kennesaw State are followed by Gardner-Webb (54 points), Monmouth (36 points) and Presbyterian (20 points). Liberty was not eligible for the preseason poll due to its transition to FBS and ineligibility for the conference championships and FCS Playoffs.

The Bucs are coming off back-to-back Big South titles and return 16 starters from a 2016 squad that beat three ranked teams en route to a second consecutive playoff appearance. Leading the way on the sidelines in his first season as head coach will be Mark Tucker, CSU's quarterback's coach for the last four years. Tucker has been an integral part of the Bucs' rise to prominence, as the program has rolled up 35 wins since 2013.

All teams are even at 0-0 heading into the conference's opening weekend this weekend, but several teams have stood out from the pack at the midway point of the 2017 season. Monmouth enters the weekend with an impressive 5-1 overall record on the year, while Kennesaw State enters with a 4-1 record (3-0 at home). The Blue Hose have posted a 3-3 mark with a majority of their contests coming at home this season as PC is in the midst of a seven-game home stand. CSU is 2-3 and still searching for their first road win of 2017, while Gardner-Webb (1-4) and Liberty (3-2) round out the group. 

Redshirt sophomore Ronnie Harris has shined in the CSU rushing attack against the Bucs' FBS opponents in the 2017 season. The Richmond Hill, Ga. native led the Bucs with a team-high 18 yards on seven carries in the opener against Mississippi State. He continued his success against top-tier talent this weekend as the 5-10 athlete paved the way with 10 carries for 71 yards (7.1 ypc) in the Bucs' loss to Indiana. Harris is currently fourth on the team with 175 yards on 32 carries in the 2017 season averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. Harris has accumulated 119 yards in the past two games on 15 carries. 

For just the second time in program history, CSU was held without a passing yard this past weekend against Indiana as the Bucs struggled to find a connection through the air against the Hoosiers. CSU's quarterbacks combined to go 0-for-10 against the IU defense in the loss. Coupled with the Bucs' 2-for-7 game against MVSU, CSU is 2-for-17 through the air for 101 yards, a touchdown, and an interception over the last two games. CSU will look to get back on track this weekend against a Blue Hose defense ranked 17th in the FCS in pass defense at 171.8 yards per game. PC leads the Big South in the category and will look to limit a CSU offense that has shown explosive ability with a 15-of-18 performance through the air for 300 yards in a win against Point.

The Bucs' inability to complete a pass on Saturday afternoon against Indiana ended Kameron Brown's two-game 100-yard receiving streak. CSU's leading receiver in each of the past two seasons, Brown recorded a six-catch, 113-yard game against Point, and then followed up with two catches for 101 yards against MVSU. Brown leads the Bucs receiving efforts with nine catches for 220 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He currently leads the Big South Conference for the second consecutive season in averaging 24.4 yards per catch; Brown averaged 20.0 yards per catch in 2016 (fifth in the FCS). 

Charleston Southern's ground production was among the Big South's best in the 2016 season as CSU was second in the league in scoring offense, second in total offense, second in rushing, and first in yards per rush. Despite ranking sixth in passing offense, CSU was second in passing touchdowns in the 2016 season as well. CSU averaged 31.8 points and 285.0 yards per game last season in conference play on their way to a 4-1 record in conference competition. The Bucs eclipsed 300 yards rushing three times in conference play in 2016, including 344 last season at Liberty. 

Charleston Southern racked up 343 rushing yards and 507 yards' total offense in a 38-3 win over the Blue Hose in the 2016 season at Buccaneer Field. CSU averaged 7.9 yards per play offensively and added 164 yards on 14-of-20 passing to top the Blue Hose. Shane Bucenell went 13-of-14 through the air, while Robert Mitchell recorded 113 yards on six carries and added two rushing touchdowns to pace the CSU offense to the win over Presbyterian. 

When Jackson Williamson takes the field on Saturday afternoon against Presbyterian, the redshirt senior center will become the program's all-time leader in games played, eclipsing the mark set by Colton Korn (45) and Nathan Prater (45). Williamson, a starter on the offensive line since he stepped foot on campus in 2013, will be starting his 46th contest in the CSU Blue and Gold. A two-time captain, Williamson started two games last season before suffering a season-ending injury and earning a medical redshirt. Back this season, the Macon, Ga. native leads a CSU rushing offense ranked 18th in the FCS and second in the Big South Conference at 208.4 yards per game.

Senior linebacker and 2017 captain Zane Cruz has been the Buccaneers' rock in the middle of the defense this season. The Jacksonville, Fla. native has displayed his talent all over the field and currently sits fourth on the team with 24 tackles while pacing the Bucs with five tackles for loss. Cruz has forced fumbles in back-to-back games and added his first sack of the 2017 season this past weekend against Indiana. Cruz is currently tied for the Big South lead with two forced fumbles and is sixth in the Big South in tackles for loss on the year. He is coming off of a six-tackle, two tackle for loss, one sack, one forced fumble game against Indiana and is heading into conference play leading a CSU defense that has forced 11 turnovers in the 2017 season.

Anthony Ellis continues to make his impact felt all over the field as the senior defensive end added his second interception of the season and a fumble recovery this past weekend against the Hoosiers. Ellis was matched up against a double-team most of the contest against the Hoosiers, but still found his way to a tackle in the contest. The Apopka, Fla. native is currently one tackle for loss and 1.5 sacks away from becoming just the third player in Big South history with 40 tackles for loss and 20 career sacks. Ellis is a two-time Preseason Big South Defensive Player of the Year and is the reigning Conference Defensive Player of the Year. 

For the second consecutive week and third time this season Sekwan Jenkins was involved in a turnover as the freshman safety has showcased a knack for getting his hands on the ball. Jenkins jumped on a fumble inside the CSU 10 yard line this past weekend against Indiana to end an IU drive. It was his first fumble recovery of the season and capped a career-high nine tackle day for the Columbia, S.C. native. Jenkins recorded a 70-yard pick six against Mississippi Valley State and added his first interception on the road against Elon on September 16 to sit tied with Anthony Ellis for the team interception lead through the first five games. 

Charleston Southern cornerback Shadarius Hopkins showcased the explosive ability that saw the Winnsboro, S.C. lead the Bucs with 14 passes defensed and earn Preseason All-Conference honors from the Big South prior to the 2017 season. Hopkins came through with a pair of big plays this past weekend against IU as the junior forced a fumble inside the CSU red zone on the Hoosiers' second drive of the game that was recovered by Sekwan Jenkins to keep the margin at 3-0. On Indiana's third play of the second half, the ball-hawking cornerback timed his approach and separated the ball from the IU wide receiver. The deflection landed in Anthony Ellis' hands for an interception. Hopkins is third on the team with 29 tackles and leads the Bucs with three pass breakups in the 2017 season.

The CSU defense welcomed back leading tackler Demetri Royer to the lineup this past weekend against Indiana. The redshirt freshman safety did not disappoint as he led the team with a career-high 13 tackles in the game against the Hoosiers. Royer entered the contest after missing the previous two games against Point and MVSU due to injury and made his first tackle of the game on IU's second drive of the contest. The Clearwater, Fla. native leads the Bucs and the Big South with 12.3 tackles per game and has added two pass breakups. 

Charleston Southern allowed 102 yards, the fewest CSU has ever allowed to an FCS opponent, in last season's contest against Presbyterian. It marked the second straight year CSU allowed less than 150 yards to PC as the Bucs yielded only 142 yards to the Blue Hose in a 10-7 defensive battle in 2015. CSU allowed four first downs in the contest with the Bucs holding PC to 23 rushing yards and 74 yards through the air on a 14-of-22 passing game.

Facing an IU punt return unit that was ranked sixth in the FBS at 20.78 yards per return heading into the game, CSU punter Kyle Reighard limited the Hoosiers to 5.33 yards per return over his 12 punts and pinned Indiana inside the 20-yard line on three separate occasions. Six of his punts resulted in fair catches, including two that were received at the IU 7-yard line in the second half. He added a game-long 57-yard punt in the second quarter. Reighard averaged 38.5 yards per attempt in the contest and currently leads the Big South with an average of 41.0 yards per attempt on the year.

View: Mobile | Desktop