CONWAY — If ever the Coastal Carolina football team was in need of a bye week, this would certainly be it.
Following a 2-0 start, the Chanticleers are now on a three-game losing skid while in the midst of the toughest stretch of their schedule. After losing to two ranked FCS teams and an FBS opponent, including a 55-14 loss at Appalachian State on Saturday, they get a week to regroup, recoup and reassess where they stand after five games.
“It’s good we’ve got a week off because, frankly, all of us as a staff couldn’t have been more disappointed with the performance that we had at App [Appalachian State],” head coach Joe Moglia said.
He admitted his team took “a couple of big steps backwards” in that game and added that this week of practice was more about looking inward than worrying about the next challenge – a ranked Stony Brook team picked to win the Big South Conference again.
“If we kind of get back on track and continue to improve the rest of the season, I hope by the time we get to the end of the season we turn around and say, ‘You know what, we literally – except for that one game – we improved every week, we did a pretty good job and we’re doing a good job laying the foundation for the future,’” Moglia said.
There’s six games left – including the entirety of the conference schedule – so what better time than now to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t and where the Chants (2-3) go from here.
The good: Even after a relatively quiet offensive day against Appalachian State, the Chants rank as the second-best offense in the Big South through five weeks with averages of 27 points and 383.2 yards per game.
The bad: Much like last year, though, the rushing game has been inconsistent at best. Coastal ranks fifth in the conference with 114.2 rushing yards per contest, and after a strong debut performance the Chants are averaging a meager 3.04 yards per carry over the last four games.
Breakout player of the first half: Senior Aramis Hillary is in his second year as the team’s starting quarterback and has settled into the role quite well as an experienced veteran now. He ranks 17th nationally among FCS players in total offense at 277.6 yards per game and is far and away the top quarterback in the league so far with 1,272 passing yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions (plus two rushing scores). He’ll be in the conversation for conference player of the year honors if he keeps up this pace.
What to look for the rest of the way: The Chants should come out of the bye week with all their key offensive playmakers healthy again. That gives the team a bevy of options in the passing game and gives offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude some decisions to make.
Freshman Tyrell Blanks has filled in nicely while junior slot receiver Niccolo Mastromatteo missed the last two games with a rib injury. Mastromatteo is due back and senior tight end David Duran is also back in the mix, but Patenaude said Blanks (13 catches for 162 yards and two scores) has shown to be one of the team’s “best 11” and will have a role in four-receiver sets, will spell Mastromatteo at times and will also start getting practice reps on the outside should a need arise.
Additionally, Patenaude has been impressed with junior running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. He’s been working behind senior starter Jeremy Height, but his strong play could force more two running-back sets or earn him more work in single-back sets. And junior Travis Small, the team’s leading rusher last year, is finally ready to return after missing the first part of the season with a foot injury. Patenaude likes the potential Small has to break long gains with his speed, so he will start getting some touches as well.
Patenaude says: “I think every time you put in a new system, there’s always going to be a learning curve. We do a really good job of understanding who were blocking and there’s very little assignment errors in what we’ve been doing, so I’m really happy with that. We understand the system. Now it’s just kind of getting an understanding of all the nuances of how the defenses are trying to adjust to what we do and making adjustments on their adjustments.”
The good: Sophomore Quinn Backus and junior Mike McClure have emerged as dependable playmakers at linebacker in their first season as starters. They’ve come up with a number of big plays already and rank among the Big South leaders in total tackles.
The bad: The overall numbers aren’t pretty. Coastal ranks 100th nationally among FCS teams in scoring defense (allowing 37.2 points per game) and 101st in total defense (454.8 yards per game).
Breakout players of the first half: The linebackers. Backus, a two-time Big South defensive player of the week already, is second in the league with 10.8 tackles per game while McClure ranks third with 9.4 stops per contest.
What to look for the rest of the way: Defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin said he’s going back to the basics with his unit this week. Needless to say, it seems the Chants are still adjusting to this new system, but Carlin’s track record at previous stops suggests he’ll get things straightened out eventually. Will it be before the end of this season? That’s the question.
Carlin says: “I’ve been down this road before. There’s always growing pains the first year with a new staff, a new system and new personnel and you’re still learning about each other and still figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of each guy. The last thing you want to do is panic and throw everything out and put a whole new system in and things like that. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to do what we do. We’ve just got to do it better.”
The good: Sophomore kicker Alex Catron has been excellent in his first year as a starter, converting six of seven field goal attempts and all 15 extra point tries. Sophomore punter Austin Cain has looked much improved from last year while averaging 39 yards per punt. And senior Tre Henderson is averaging 39.3 yards over six kickoff returns.
The bad: The Chants have allowed a few long returns this year, but overall, this has been a much-improved unit from last season.
Breakout player of the first half: Catron. He won the kicking job at the end of camp and delivered one of the highlights of the season so far with his 45-yard game-tying field goal to force overtime at Furman.
What to look for the rest of the way: The Chants should just hope for more of the same from this group.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.