CONWAY — Jeremy Height’s 20 carries Saturday night were the most by a Coastal Carolina player since Eric O’Neal had 21 in the program’s 2010 FCS playoff game, and his 109 rushing yards matched the highest total for a Chanticleers running back over the last two seasons.
So much for the running back-by-committee approach then?
Not quite, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said, but Height has indeed secured his role as the team’s lead back going forward.
“He’s going to be the guy starting out,” Patenaude said. “… We’ll always have one guy getting 14 to 15 to 20 carries and then the other guys filling in, and a lot of it is all choice when you’re in two-back [sets]. So you don’t really know exactly who’s going to get the ball. It just happened that Jeremy started rolling.”
Height was part of the Chants’ backfield committee last season, but he got off to a slow start, Travis Small soon took over as the team’s lead back and Height finished with just 197 yards in 57 carries for the season.
But he looked impressive Saturday against North Carolina A&T, especially on his 22-yard touchdown scamper at the end of the first quarter.
“I just thank God for each and every day. I just put in the work, and he gave me the ability to do it so I just went out and did what I could,” Height said. “I just went out and did my job and everything took care of itself.”
Of course, senior Marcus Whitener was sidelined in the first quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return, Small was held out as he recovers from a persistent foot injury and junior transfer Lorenzo Taliaferro was rested with a banged-up shoulder. Whitener is going to have an MRI this week, Taliaferro is set to return, and Small is also expected to start running again, but Height should nonetheless be in line for another significant workload.
“With Marcus [getting hurt], it kind of changed the dynamic a little bit,” Patenaude said of Height. “Marcus probably would have subbed him out a little bit more in the second quarter, but he was running well with the ball and we had to keep feeding him.”
On the sidelines
Speaking of Patenaude, the Chants’ new offensive coordinator eschewed the coaching booth to call plays from the sideline Saturday night, and he didn’t use a headset either, instead signaling plays in to the huddle.
“I never wear a headset. I’ve been running this offense for 14 years, and at the end of each series I get on the headset and kind of go over everything,” he said. “But all the information’s coming to me … so I know the down and distance every play, basically what I’m looking at coverage-wise and that type of thing. The fact that you make adjustments within the series is overrated. …
“I think when you play that kind of uptempo, try-to-catch-people [offense], it’s hard to listen to what’s in the headset and think of what you want to do. Quite honestly, if you have to make a lot of adjustments or you have to have a lot of info from the box, you haven’t done your homework.”
Coastal finished with 437 offensive yards against an Aggies team that ranked eighth in the FCS last year in total defense (289.18 yards allowed per game) and returned a bulk of its defensive starters. The Chants had a productive day against North Carolina A&T last year as well, though, with 384 offensive yards.
“I think we made a bunch of plays, and I think we have a tremendous amount of room for improvement,” Patenaude said. “I thought it was like a typical first game. We did some good things, we understood our basic assignments and we made some big plays that got us out of some jams. But overall our execution was just average and we’re going to have to get a lot better to play the [remaining] teams on our schedule.”
McClure and Backus shine
New CCU defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin was asked repeatedly about his decision to promote first-year starters Mike McClure and Quinn Backus to the first-team lineup over established senior Andrae Jacobs.
Well, all McClure did Saturday was lead the team with 12 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss while Backus ranked second on the squad with 10 tackles.
“I’m not surprised they played well,” Carlin said. “That’s what I’ve seen all spring and all camp. They played last night like they’ve been practicing.”
Catron seizes opportunity
Sophomore Alex Catron drew the starting nod at place-kicker even though incumbent junior Grant Clayton was listed atop the depth chart after preseason camp. The coaches insisted it would be an ongoing competition among the specialists, and Catron took full advantage of his opportunity Saturday night.
After being limited to a share of kickoff duties last season, he converted both of his field goal attempts (29 and 30 yards), all three extra point attempts and averaged 53.5 yards per kickoff. Catron said he was told last Monday that he was going to be the guy for the opener.
“The whole time it was me, it was Grant, it was Stephen [Denuel], Grant again, Stephen for a while. We just kept competing,” he said. “I just came out on top and really polished everything up.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.