CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern closes out the road portion of the 2017 schedule this weekend as the Buccaneers make the trip to Fifth Third Bank Stadium and Kennesaw, Ga. for an ESPN3 matchup against Kennesaw State. Kickoff between the Bucs and the Owls is set for 3:30 p.m. In preparation for the contest, here are three things to watch in Saturday's game.
Containing Kennesaw State's Rushing Attack
Charleston Southern's defense faces a tall task this weekend as the Buccaneers take on the FCS' leading rushing team. The Owls enter the contest pacing the nation with 331.2 rushing yards per game paced by standout quarterback Chandler Burks, as well as a trio of running backs that are all in the top 10 in rushing yards per game in the Big South this season.
Paced by Burks' 83.9 rushing yards per game, the Owls have decimated opponents to the tune of 2,981 total rushing yards, 25 touchdowns, and 5.7 yards per carry. Kennesaw State has surpassed 250 rushing yards in all nine games this season including a Big South conference-game record 498 rushing yards in their October 14 win over Liberty. The Owls racked up those yards on 77 carries and scored five touchdowns in the 42-28 win over the Flames.
Kennesaw State has accumulated at least 300 rushing yards in each of their previous six games including 346 last week in the snow at Montana State. The Owls battled their way through 74 carries and Burks found his way into the end zone in KSU's 16-14 win over the Bobcats.
Burks has been the man to watch on the Kennesaw State offense this season and is currently second in the Big South in rushing yards per game. He has scored rushing touchdowns in each of the last six games for the Owls; one off the record set by CSU alum and Big South Hall of Fame quarterback Collin Drafts who scored in seven consecutive games from 2005-06. Burks has eclipsed 60 yards rushing in all nine games this season, posting a season-high 149 yards on 34 carries and a touchdown this past weekend on his way to earning conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. He added 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Owls' come-from-behind win over North Greenville earlier in the season.
Jake McKenzie (60.4, 6th), Darnell Holland (43.7, 8th), and Shaquil Terry (43.4, 9th) are also in the top 10 in the Big South rushing rankings for the season. McKenzie has picked up at least 100 rushing yards in three of the last four games to lead the trio, while Holland had six carries for 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the win over Liberty. Terry added nine carries for 126 yards and a touchdown against the Flames.
Due to the Owls rushing success, Kennesaw State leads the Big South in time of possession by a wide margin. The Owls average holding onto the ball 33:26 each game, nearly three minutes longer than the next closest in Gardner-Webb (30:27).
The Bucs defense has been among the conference's stingiest defenses when it comes to rushing yards this season. CSU has allowed just one 100-yard rusher on the year and has held five different opponents under the 100 team rushing mark this season. The lone ball-carrier to crack the mark was Elon's Malcolm Summers who picked up 178 yards on 30 carries.
CSU set the standard earlier this season allowing the second-fewest rushing yards in Buccaneer history after limiting Mississippi Valley State to negative-24 yards in the Bucs' win on September 30. CSU is allowing a conference-best 89.7 rushing yards per game in conference play against Presbyterian, Gardner-Webb, and Monmouth.
CSU's rushing defense success includes limited three of the top five runners in the conference this season to under 60 yards. The Bucs limited Presbyterian's Torrance Marable (80.7 ypg), Monmouth's Pete Guerriero (96.0 ypg), and Gardner-Webb's Tyrell Maxwell (81.3 ypg) to a combined 116 yards on 50 carries over the three games. Only the Runnin' Bulldogs have cracked the 100-yard team rushing mark this season in conference play with GWU picking up 106 yards on 45 carries (2.4 ypc).
Anthony Ellis, Johnny Robinson, Noah Oliver, and Solomon Brown lead an experienced front seven against the Owls offense. Ellis is coming off a record-setting game that featured the All-American defensive end recording 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks among his 12 tackles. Ellis (23.5 sacks/48.5 tackles for loss) is nearing becoming the Big South's first 25/50 player in conference history.
Robinson has been equally dangerous for the CSU defense up front over the past two weeks with the junior tackle picking up 5.5 tackles for loss against Monmouth and Gardner-Webb. Oliver posted a career-high 11 tackles last season in the Bucs' win over Kennesaw State, while Brown has been one of the Big South's all-time top blitzing linebackers off the edge and has recorded six tackles behind the line of scrimmage over the last five games.
J.D. Sosebee and Demetri Royer have also been among the Bucs' tackling leaders this season to help the Bucs' rushing coverage. Sosebee leads the team with 65 tackles on the year, while Royer has posted four double-digit tackling efforts on his way to leading the team with 8.4 tackles per game.
Facing the Owls' Top-Ranked Defense
While Kennesaw State's offense has garnered much of the attention on the season, and rightly so, the defense has quietly turned into the Big South's premier unit in 2017. The Owls boast the Big South's top scoring defense (15.3), total defense (283.6), and top rushing defense (94.7) on the season with two games left to play in the regular season.
The Owls have held four opponents under 100 rushing yards in a game with Alabama State recording a season-low 36 yards on 29 carries against KSU. However, Liberty (103), Gardner-Webb (134), and Presbyterian (132) have all cracked the 100-yard mark, as well as last weekend's opponent Montana State. The Bobcats racked up a season-high 163 yards and a touchdown against KSU last weekend.
Key to Kennesaw State's defensive prowess has been the play of safety/linebacker hybrid Bryson Armstrong. The Marietta, Ga. native leads the Owls with 68 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and three interceptions. He also leads the team with a trio of fumble recoveries.
Linebackers Izzy Sam (53 tackles) and Anthony Gore (50 tackles) are also names to watch on the Owls defense this weekend as the duo both have received All-Conference recognition in the past.
The Bucs rushing offense enters the game third in the conference at 198.4 yards per game behind the strong play of redshirt junior running back Noah Shuler. Shuler is seventh in the Big South with 51.1 rushing yards per game and cracked the top 10 in CSU's single-season annals with his seventh rushing touchdown of the season last weekend at Gardner-Webb. Shuler has found the end zone in six of the eight games this season including twice against Elon. He added a touchdown last weekend to cap the Bucs' first drive against Gardner-Webb.
Another dimension for the Buccaneers this weekend against the Owls will be the play on the perimeter by wide receivers Kameron Brown, Kenny Dinkins, and Saire Davis. Brown leads the Bucs and is 10th in the FCS in averaging 21.7 yards per reception on the season. The redshirt sophomore has three 100-yard receiving efforts this season to pace the Bucs' efforts. Dinkins is second on the team with 228 receiving yards, but leads the Bucs with four touchdown catches on the season. He added a key 49-yard grab last weekend in the closing seconds to set up the Bucs' game-winning field goal. Davis also has a two-touchdown game to his credit this season with a pair of scores against Savannah State. He has three games with at least 50 receiving yards this season.
Quarterbacks Shane Bucenell, London Johnson, and Robert Mitchell are all expected to line up this weekend for the Bucs and the trio will all get onto the field against the Owls. The Bucs will look to protect the football when they go to the air as KSU leads the conference with 17 interceptions this season.
Keeping Title Hopes Alive
A two-loss team has never won the Big South Conference title. With current undefeateds Monmouth (3-0) and Kennesaw State (3-0) both scheduled to line up in the conference's regular season finale next weekend, the Buccaneers will need to win on Saturday to keep their chance at a third consecutive Big South title and potential FCS playoff berth.
A two-loss Big South team has never won a share of the conference title, while a one-loss team has been recognized as at least co-champions in seven different seasons, including last year with CSU and Liberty both sporting 5-1 records in conference play. The Buccaneers will need a win on Saturday against Kennesaw State and for Monmouth to fall to the Owls next weekend to be back in the running for the conference's automatic bid.
A CSU win on Saturday against the Owls would also extend another streak for the Bucs. CSU has been .500 or better in Big South Conference play in each of the past five seasons and boasts an impressive 22-9 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 3-2 (2013), 3-2 (2014), 6-0 (2015), and 4-1 (2016), over the last four years. CSU has gone a perfect 2-0 against Kennesaw State. The Bucs are 3-1 against Monmouth, 4-2 against Gardner-Webb, 5-1 against Presbyterian, and 3-2 against Liberty over the last six years.