So far so good for new defensive coordinator Chad Staggs’ unit through three games this season – top 10 national ranking good, in fact.
Coastal Carolina, which has switched to more of a 3-4 defense under Staggs with three down linemen and four linebackers from a 4-3 last year, has yet to allow 300 yards of offense to an opponent.
The Chanticleers (2-1) rank first in the Sun Belt Conference and seventh in the nation with 229.3 yards allowed per game, improving to sixth nationally with 123.3 passing yards allowed per game while ranking 39th with 106 average rushing yards allowed.
And after giving up 30 points to Eastern Michigan in the season-opening loss, the “Black Swarm” defense has surrendered just 14 combined points to Kansas and Norfolk State in the past two weeks and ranks 24th in the country with 14.7 points allowed per game.
“I think they’re buying into the system of coach Staggs and our coaches and just the mentality that we want, the Black Swarm mentality of swarming to the ball and creating turnovers,” CCU head coach Jamey Chadwell said. “As we go each week we’re adding a little wrinkle here or there and I think what it has allowed them to do is play fast with a little less thinking, where they can just go out and attack.”
The Chants lost junior linebacker Silas Kelly, who is arguably the leader of the defense, in the third quarter against Kansas and junior safety Enock Makonzo early in the Kansas game on Sept. 7.
“I’m excited to see how the defense continues to grow as all these young guys that are playing a lot for the first time continue to learn what to do and get the experience,” Chadwell said. “If we continue to build on that, we’ve got a chance to be a solid defense.”
The defense is both contributing to and benefiting from Coastal’s 11-minute advantage in time of possession per game, as the Chants’ offense has possessed the ball an average of 35:30 to lead the Sun Belt and rank ninth national.
Time of possession has been a constant in Chadwell’s spread option offense, as the Chants led the Sun Belt and ranked 15th nationally in time of possession at 32:48 minutes per game last year despite going 5-7.
“We’re helping them by keeping them off the field,” Chadwell said. “The last two games we’ve had the ball a lot, which is good because when you’re thin there that’s the best way to keep them healthy. They’re not out there very much and they can play fast.”
Last season after three games the Chants ranked 98th in total defense, allowing 432.7 yards per game, and finished the season ranked 110th at 450.8 yards per game.
“As you look through our first three games I think you can say you don’t just run the ball whenever they want, nobody has just ran the ball whenever they want on us,” senior defensive lineman Sterling Johnson said. “That goes from dominating the line of scrimmage to the safeties fitting up right, the whole defense, it’s a three-level thing.
“Dominating the line of scrimmage is the first priority but there are also different other working parts into that as well.”
After allowing Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass to complete 20 of 22 passes for 91 percent in the opening loss, the past two opponents have completed a combined 24 of 39 passes for a 61.5 completion percentage with four interceptions.
The Chants have some experience in the secondary with redshirt senior corners Chandler Kryst and Mallory Claybourne, but with Makonzo out, they also have three sophomores starting or getting significant playing time.
“After that first game we started to just basically correct everything that was wrong. It’s really just in the details,” said Kryst, who is tied for the national FBS lead with three interceptions.
“It really starts with the defensive line,” Kryst added. “Our pressure has been amazing. Any good defense starts with the D-Line and that pressure has been helping a lot with the secondary in general. We’ve been playing a lot of zone. We’ll mix up some [man-to-man] every once in a while so that’s helped a lot, especially in zones when you get pressure it’s real easy to get a pick.”
The Black Swarm nickname is derived from the black jerseys the defense wears in practice and the approach of swarming to the ball. “I like it. It gives a good culture to everything,” Kryst said. “Every play, every practice we put an emphasis on getting to the ball.”
The Chants will try to slow down a frenetic, no-huddle Massachusetts (0-3) offense on the road Saturday that is averaging 19.3 points, 147 yards rushing and 149 yards passing per game. “They play at the fastest pace that we’ve seen,” Chadwell said.
Sounds of victory
The Coastal Carolina Fight Song was created for the football team’s inaugural season in 2003 and the words were largely rewritten in 2014 by a pair of the school’s English professors.
The final verse reads: “Sock ’em, bust ’em, that’s our custom, Coastal Carolina.”
Coastal is trying to celebrate success more this season under Chadwell, so new this year, courtesy of his coaching staff, is a victory song that the Chants recite in the locker room after wins to the lead of a coach or player.
It goes: “We’re the Chanticleers . . . tenacious and true . . . we’ll fight until the end . . . we’re CCU . . . we defend our school . . . with all our might . . . Coastal will always . . . fight, fight, fight.” And it ends with a group fist-raising to “Awwwww Chants Up.”
“We tried to get a victory song a little shorter [than the fight song] that our guys could remember,” Chadwell explained. “Hopefully they look forward to it.”
Ready, aim, win
In keeping with the celebrating success theme, the Chants are playing for a new trophy each week that relates to their opponent and is part of the locker room celebrations after wins.
The trophy in the opener wasn’t unveiled because the Chants lost to Eastern Michigan. It was a Jayhawks piñata against Kansas, a beach ball against Norfolk State with both teams being beach towns, and this week against the UMass Minutemen it will be a musket.
Chadwell began the tradition of weekly trophies in his four years as head coach at Charleston Southern from 2013-16.
“I felt we lost a game or two where we probably were the better team and maybe overlooked the opponent,” Chadwell said. “So I tried to come up with something to keep us hopefully consistent and improve each week and play with that chip on their shoulder. Anytime you’re playing for a championship typically people are more focused. . . . . You try to find as much as you can to motivate them and get them ready to go every week.”
The team learns what the trophy will be early in the game week. No word if the musket will be loaded with gun powder if the Chants win.
“It’s something that can bring some energy to practice and bring some energy to the team,” sophomore quarterback Bryce Carpenter said. “I think it’s something that’s been good for us and something we can feed off of.”
Time to heal
The Chants got through Saturday’s game without an injury to speak of, but will again be without Kelly and Makonzo on defense with leg injuries, offensive linemen Seth Harrell and Steven Bedosky with lower body injuries, and senior receiver Ky’Jon Tyler with an ankle injury. None of those starters played against Norfolk State.
Who: Coastal Carolina (2-1) at Massachusetts (0-3)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: McGuirk Alumni Stadium, Amherst, Mass.
Occasion: Final non-conference game
TV: Live on FloFootball.com and NESN
Radio: WRNN 99.5-FM