Anyone who has listened to a Joe Moglia news conference or interview in the last few months understands that Coastal Carolina’s first-year football coach is not one for offering big-picture perspective or trumpeting the significance of any one game or moment.
So predictably, Moglia spent a portion of his weekly media session Wednesday swatting away questions about what it means for the Chanticleers to be back in the NCAA FCS playoffs for just the third time in program history as they try to secure their first-ever playoff win Saturday at No. 22-ranked Bethune-Cookman.
“Going to the playoffs is a wonderful thing that we have earned. I think it’s also a wonderful thing for our university, but it’s no different for us,” Moglia said of the game. “The fact that it says playoffs doesn’t matter. … It’s not coach talk. This is the way we think.”
Moglia instead repeated the all-too-familiar refrains of having a consistent approach, focusing one play at a time, etc., and when pressed further, he wasn’t relenting.
“You guys keep asking the question, and I will keep answering it the same way,” he said to some chuckles around the room.
Well, Moglia doesn’t have to be the one to say it. When the Chants (7-4) take the field Saturday afternoon inside Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla., against Bethune-Cookman (9-2), it has the potential to be a watershed moment of sorts for the program and its rookie coach.
Moglia was hired in the offseason – an offseason of change and contention for the Chants and their fans as popular coach David Bennett was dismissed of his duties – to move the program forward. Steadily. Progressively. Over time.
That Moglia has the Chants here in his first season, well, even CCU President David DeCenzo admitted this week that this new era of Coastal football is ahead of the schedule he envisioned.
And for a program still in just its 10th season, the opportunity now awaits for the Chants to take the next step in growing their national profile.
“I think it would be another great thing to add to Coastal Carolina history,” sophomore linebacker Quinn Backus acknowledged. “It’s what we’ve been working for, [and we’ll] just go out there and give everything we got and just play hard for the university so we can get recognition that we should get and people won’t look at us like, ‘Oh, well, that’s just Coastal Carolina.’ Hopefully, we win this game and when people mention Coastal Carolina, we’ll be mentioned with all the other great teams around the country.”
The obstacle in the way of those goals is a very formidable Bethune-Cookman team that has won seven straight games, rolled through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference schedule undefeated and is making its second playoff appearance in three seasons under coach Brian Jenkins.
The Wildcats rank fifth among all FCS teams in total defense, holding opponents to 294.09 yards per game, third in interceptions (19), third in turnover margin (34-16) and 10th in rushing offense (247.45 yards per game).
“When you get to the playoffs, you’re truly playing pretty much the top teams in the country,” Moglia said. “When you look at Bethune-Cookman, I can see why they went undefeated in the league. I can see why they won the last seven games in a row.”
Starting with that defense.
The Wildcats have held their last six opponents to 17 points or less while keeping all of those opponents under 300 yards of offense and three of the teams to 200 yards or less.
“They’re the best defensive team that we’ve played this year – that includes Toledo,” Moglia said.
The Chants, though, are a pretty dynamic offensive team – and better than any the Wildcats have faced at the FCS level. Seven of the 10 FCS teams Bethune-Cookman has played are ranked 96th or worse in total offense and only Tennessee State (26th) is in the top 60.
Coastal, meanwhile, is 21st on that list and has won its last five games by 21 points or more while averaging 46.2 points, 476.2 yards and 285.6 rushing yards during the winning streak.
“Our playmakers, their job is to make plays and they’ve been doing that all year, and the numbers have shown,” senior quarterback Aramis Hillary said. “… Those guys are some freakish athletes and sometimes when I’m out there, I can’t help but to watch them.”
It’s an intriguing matchup, no doubt.
In addition to their opposing strengths, both teams have the momentum and confidence accrued through extended winning streaks and are making their second playoff appearance in the last three seasons while looking for a postseason breakthrough with a matchup at No. 4-seeded Old Dominion awaiting the winner next week.
“I already know all the guys want to play another week of football, and another week and another week until we get all the way to the end,” senior defensive end Quinton Davis said. “I’m really proud of the guys how we came together as a team and … even though we came out 2-4, we never gave up.”
And now they’re here, with an opportunity to make program history.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.