Less than two months ago, the Charleston Southern football team was in the depths of a 15-game losing streak that dated back to 2010, and at that point the Buccaneers looked to again be on their way toward another dismal season.
Now, they’re the biggest remaining obstacle to Coastal Carolina securing a NCAA FCS playoff berth, and as far as CCU coach Joe Moglia is concerned, a very legitimate obstacle for that matter.
Since starting 0-3 this fall on the heels of a winless 2011 season, Charleston Southern has won five of its last seven games. Granted, one of those wins came against a Division II foe and another against an even lower-tiered NAIA opponent, but the Buccaneers have nonetheless looked significantly improved while pushing their record to 5-5 overall and 3-2 in the Big South Conference heading into their regular-season finale with the Chanticleers on Saturday at Brooks Stadium.
And that has Moglia’s attention.
“The fact that you take a team that hasn’t done well – and I think it’s such a credit to their coaching staff – the fact they were able to turn it around, the fact they’ve won most of the last several games ... and they’ve been sound across the board, this is a good football team,” Moglia said. “Our record is really very, very similar to each other. A win over us [would] give them a winning season and it’s a phenomenal turnaround from where they were a year ago.”
Of course, the Chants’ own surge over the last four games has been mighty impressive as well. With four straight wins by at least 22 points and a little help last weekend as Liberty upset league-leading Stony Brook, Coastal (6-4, 4-1 Big South) is now largely in control of its own postseason fate.
Stony Brook has completed its regular-season schedule and sits at 9-2 overall and 5-1 in the league, which should be good for a spot in the playoffs regardless of what happens this weekend. But if Liberty can beat a struggling VMI team Saturday and Coastal gets past Charleston Southern, there would be a three-way tie atop the standings with the Seawolves, Flames and Chants all possessing 1-1 records against each other. In that scenario, the tiebreaker – and the conference’s automatic playoff berth – would go to the team with the best road record in league play, which is Coastal.
“We’re fortunate to be in the situation that we’re in and part of the reason we’re in the situation we’re in is because we’ve had an obsessive focus on the team we’re going to play [each] week,” Moglia said. “... No matter what else happens in the world, we’ve got to be able to focus on that game.”
So the Chants will spend this week studying a suddenly formidable Charleston Southern team that defeated Gardner-Webb 28-10 last Saturday and now has three wins in its last four Big South games with the others coming by double figures over struggling VMI and Presbyterian squads.
Buccaneers coach Jay Mills said that the biggest improvements in his team have come in terms of limiting turnovers and progressing in a new defensive scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Shawn Quinn. The team has committed four turnovers in its last five games while holding its last four FCS-level opponents to an average of 17.8 points per game.
“We tried taking a consistent approach to it,” Mills said of the turnaround. “We said to the young men and to others, it’s a good team and it’s a young team. We tried to just promote to them if we just keep pushing ... you never know when the next push is going to propel you to where it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of positive things. ... We really tried to limit their focus on the ‘W’ and the ‘L’ and just [kept] working to get better and eventually good things would happen. And they’ve started to happen.”
In discussing the Buccaneers, Moglia touted the strength of the rushing game – which ranks second in the Big South at 202 yards per game – and a pass defense that leads the conference and ranks fourth nationally in allowing 149.9 yards per game through the air.
Both numbers are helped by Charleston Southern’s 42-7 win over NAIA foe Edward Waters in which it racked up 409 rushing yards and allowed only 36 passing yards against an overmatched opponent, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of merit in those stats as well. In conference games only, the Buccaneers’ numbers are actually even better in both areas with their pass defense allowing only 142.2 yards per game through the air – 41.6 fewer than the second-ranking team in that category – while ranking third in rushing in league play at 217.8 yards per game.
Senior cornerback Charles James leads that secondary with two interceptions and six pass break-ups and last week became the program’s career leader with 12 picks, while junior running back Teddy Allen (98 carries for 527 yards and eight touchdowns) and junior quarterback Malcolm Dixon (97-423-7) give the Buccaneers a multi-faceted rushing attack.
Moglia noted that rush defense has not exactly been a consistent strength for his team this year, and that while the Chants have moved the ball through the air effectively all season, they haven’t faced a defense ranked so high in that regard.
“I think there’s no question when a team has that type of turnaround, they take a lot of pride in how they’re playing and I have no doubt they’re going to be ready to play,” Moglia said. “Charleston Southern’s a good football team, and we’ve got to be ready for that game.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.