CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern's 2018 home opener is finally here as the Buccaneers welcome No. 14/12 Elon to Buccaneer Field. Kickoff between the Bucs and the Phoenix is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN+. In preparation for the contest, here are three things to watch for in Saturday's game.
All game day information is available on the Game Day Central Page.
CSU Rushing Game against Elon Defense
Charleston Southern's rushing attack has been a focal point over the Buccaneers' success in each of the last five seasons. Key to Charleston Southern's resurgence over the last five years has been the success of the offensive rushing unit. Affectionately named "Gold Rush", the offensive line has paced CSU's efforts to 41 wins and a pair of Big South Championships. With those championships included two trips to the FCS Playoffs and CSU's first berth to the Quarterfinal round in 2015.
Four of CSU's top five team-rushing efforts have occurred over the last five seasons. The Bucs eclipsed the 3,000-yard rushing mark in 2013. CSU has also surpassed 2,000 yards in each of the last six seasons. The magic number for the Bucs has been 300 rushing yards in each of the last three seasons with CSU posting an 8-0 record when eclipsing the triple century mark.
300-YARD RUSHING GAMES OVER LAST THREE SEASONS
Sept. 26, 2015 306 at The Citadel
Sept. 3, 2016 405 vs. Kentucky State
Sept. 24, 2016 322 at Monmouth
Oct. 22, 2016 343 vs. Presbyterian
Nov. 12, 2016 344 at Liberty
Sept. 23, 2017 320 yards vs. Point
Sept. 30, 2017 359 yards vs. Miss. Valley State
Oct. 21, 2017 308 vs. Savannah State
The offensive line, paced by a trio of seniors up front in Stephen Haralambis, Joe Gold, and Gage Bostwick, as well as redshirt juniors Zack Evans and Brackin Smith, has gained valuable experience over the last few seasons. The quintet has continued to develop under the tutelage of first-year offensive line coach Matt White and it showed on the field against the Gators in the season-opener.
Although Charleston Southern struggled to get the ball moving through the air against the Gators in the season opener, CSU was able to get the ground game clicking in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Ronnie Harris paced the way with an eight-carry, 83-yard rushing effort. Terrence Wilson added a 22-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to help the Bucs on their way to recording 222 rushing yards in the contest, averaging an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. CSU recorded the second-most rushing yards in program history against an FBS opponent in the game trailing only their 2015 contest at Troy (263 yards).
The Bucs posted five games with at least 200 rushing yards last season, including 211 yards on 49 carries in the loss against the Phoenix last year. Noah Shuler led the Bucs' offense against the Phoenix last season with 14 carries for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns. London Johnson added 49 yards on eight carries. The Bucs will look for similar success this season against the Elon defense.
Elon has been tough to judge this season with the Phoenix limiting South Florida to 148 rushing yards on 38 carries, but the Bulls did most of their damage through the air in the contest (367 yards, three touchdowns). Against a run-dominant Furman program on September 8, the Phoenix loaded the line of scrimmage allowing just 199 rushing yards and a late fourth-quarter touchdown after the game was decided.
The Phoenix currently are averaging 8.0 tackles for loss per game and 2.5 sacks paced up front by Jamir Malone. Five different players have recorded sacks on the season, while Malone and Warren Messer (2.0) have combined to record multiple tackles for loss on the year.
CSU's ability to control the line of scrimmage offensively will help dictate the game pace. The Bucs enter the weekend 28th in FCS in time of possession at 32:02.
Stopping Davis Cheek and Malcolm Summers
Elon's dynamic duo of sophomore quarterback Davis Cheek and senior running back Malcolm Summers paced the Phoenix to the 19-17 win over the Buccaneers last season. The pair helped propel Elon back to the FCS Playoffs for the second time in program history with Elon finishing the year with an 8-4 record and a No. 21/20 ranking in the postseason polls.
In the contest last season against the Bucs, Cheek finished with 145 yards and a touchdown through the air and added a rushing score. Summers added 178 rushing yards (123 in the first half) and a touchdown while recording 5.9 yards per carry.
Cheek received a number of postseason accolades last season as a true freshman. The Matthews, N.C. native earned CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and was fifth in the Jerry Rice Award Freshman of the Year standings. He finished the season with 2,431 passing yards and 15 touchdowns. Including in that were a trio of 300-yard passing performances against Furman (301), Rhode Island (331), and Villanova (357).
Summers had his junior season cut short due to injury after six games, but his performance early in the season still gave the Mebane, N.C. native Second Team All-CAA recognition. Summers carried the ball 134 times for 755 yards and added four touchdowns on the season. His 294-yard rushing performance against No. 6 Richmond last season ranked for the second-most in Elon history and 10th in CAA history. He added 171 yards on 39 carries in a win over Albany last season.
Last season, CSU (No. 19) was ranked coming into the contest against the Phoenix. This year, the tables have turned with the Phoenix entering the weekend ranked No. 14/12 into the weekend.
Cheek once again leads the way under center for the Phoenix with 218 passing yards and a touchdown following games against South Florida and Furman. Summers has toted the ball a team-high 26 times for 132 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Jaylan Thomas has provided a counterpunch in the run game with Summers and leads the team with 164 yards on 13 carries, averaging an impressive 12.6 yards per carry on the year.
The Buccaneers enter the contest with one game under their belt this season having made the trip to Florida on September 1. Since then, CSU went on their scheduled bye week (Sept. 8), before last week's contest at The Citadel (Sept. 15) was postponed due to Hurricane Florence.
CSU struggled to stop the Gators early in the contest surrendering five first-half touchdown passes, but made strides in the second half against UF. CSU surrendered only a pair of field goals and a Kyle Trask touchdown run over the final 30 minutes of the game.
Headlining the Bucs' efforts was a familiar face on the outside with returning redshirt senior defensive end Solomon Brown. Brown finished the contest with a team-high eight tackles and added a tackle for loss – one of five CSU stops behind the line of scrimmage against the Gators.
With Brown leading the line at the front, CSU will also rely on its senior-laden pass defense spotlighted by redshirt senior cornerback Jonathan Slaton. Slaton leads the NCAA with three pass breakups on the season and joins Brandon Rowland, Shadarius Hopkins, and James Allen with an experienced quartet that will attempt to keep Cheek and company in check.
Protecting the Kicking Game
An area the Buccaneers are working to address this week heading into the game against Elon is their kicking game – in particular, their kick protection. Charleston Southern had both placekicking attempts blocked in the season opener against Florida.
The Gators put a hand on Tyler Tekac's 22-yard attempt just before the end of the first half. They later knocked down and returned CSU's lone PAT attempt of the game for a two-point conversion. Kick protection also broke down last season against Elon as the Phoenix were able to get a hand on CSU's game-winning 51-yard field goal attempt.
In a game when it could go either way, special teams will play a key role on Saturday at Buccaneer Field. Tekac connected on a pair of game-winning kicks last season and would welcome the opportunity to add to his totals as he continues his march up the career scoring list at CSU.