CONWAY — Talk to Joe Moglia a few times and one should notice that Coastal Carolina’s football coach is not real interested in discussing things beyond his general purview of control.
That would include the No. 20 ranking attached to Saturday’s opponent, Eastern Kentucky, in the latest national FCS poll by The Sports Network. And, for that matter, the Colonels’ tradition as a perennially successful program that has piled up Ohio Valley Conference championships and has two FCS national titles to its credit from decades ago.
“We understand that. But the impact that it has on what we’re doing, what our preparation is, what our thoughts are, our game plan, it’s totally literally irrelevant,” Moglia said earlier this week. “We’ve got a game. It’s really important for us to win this game. It’d be important if they were ranked; it would be important if they weren’t ranked. I don’t even waste a conversation on something that’s irrelevant to our preparation.”
OK, fair enough. But, hey, for a Coastal team off to a 2-0 start while perhaps exceeding expectations to a degree thus far, well, it’s certainly an intriguing opportunity the Chanticleers have before them Saturday at Brooks Stadium.
What Moglia was willing to talk about this week are the challenges he feels the Colonels (1-1) present – challenges that exceed what the Chants have faced to this point.
“I don’t think there’s anybody on the staff that [disagrees] with this,” Moglia said. “Eastern Kentucky is a better football team and has better talent than either [North Carolina] A&T or Furman.”
Eastern Kentucky has a veteran senior quarterback in T.J. Pryor, who is closing in on the program’s all-time passing records, but the offense starts with senior running back Matt Denham – a 2012 Walter Payton Award watch list selection with more than 2,000 career rushing yards on his resume.
Denham averaged 130.8 yards per game last season and went for 166 last week in a win over Morehead State.
“They do a lot of inside running, so we’ll just have to be disciplined, focus on our job and do what we’re supposed to do,” sophomore linebacker Quinn Backus said.
The Chants’ defense certainly fell short in that regard at the end of the team’s 47-45 triple-overtime win last week at Furman while allowing 19 fourth-quarter points to a Paladins team playing with a true freshman backup quarterback.
So how Coastal responds defensively this week will be key.
“We’ve got to get our team to connect physically and mentally,” senior defensive tackle Johnny Hartsfield said. “It’s always later in the game we have some kind of breakdown where guys are physically where they’re supposed to be, but mentally they might do the wrong thing. So we’ve just got to put everything together.”
Added Moglia: “We clearly can not have the breakdowns we had last week. Again, that’s not going to get fixed overnight. I’m hoping there’s a significant improvement.”
Offensively, the Chants will just try to keep rolling behind senior quarterback Aramis Hillary, who has bested his career-high passing total each of the first two games while throwing for 274 and 292 yards, respectively.
And overall, the gap between the teams Saturday, if any, does not seem significant given that Eastern Kentucky won by a narrow 24-17 margin last week over Morehead State – a program that went 3-8 last season and plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer League.
The Chants are 3-2 all-time against ranked teams inside Brooks Stadium, and athletic department officials are expecting another strong crowd with about 8,500 tickets sold as of Friday afternoon. An “upset” would seem to further the growing buzz the program has built around Moglia’s first season and perhaps boost the Chants a bit in the national consciousness.
But again, those are extraneous factors beyond the team’s control, and like their coach, the Coastal players say they aren’t focusing on such things.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t really care what the buzz is,” Hartsfield said. “The only thing I care about it what goes on in that locker room, and me and my boys, we’re excited. We’re working hard, and we’ve been grinding since January. Since the day we heard we had a new coach, we’ve been grinding for him ever since.”
So on to the next challenge they go.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.