Coastal Carolina started the season 11-for-11 on fourth down conversions.
The team’s first failed fourth-down attempt cost the Chanticleers a chance at completing a comeback Saturday in a 31-21 loss to Georgia State at Brooks Stadium.
Coastal cut an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to 10 with a touchdown and two-point conversion and faced a fourth-and-1 at the Panthers’ 8-yard line with 3 minutes remaining in an attempt to further cut into the lead.
The Chants called a run to the left side of the line and had a hole for the rush, but the play was whistled dead so officials could check if the Chants got a first down on the previous play. Video replay showed they were short, and CCU coach Jamey Chadwell didn’t want to run the same play a second time.
“We ran the play we wanted to run right there before and blew them out of there, but then they obviously saw it and they got a chance to draw it up over there so we thought let’s go with something different,” Chadwell said.
CCU instead attempted a quarterback draw with Bryce Carpenter, but the snap wasn’t executed cleanly and Coastal turned the ball over on downs.
“It was fourth and short so I thought, ‘Hey, we’re that close and we’ve been pretty good on fourth down.’ We had been perfect for the year,” Chadwell said. “. . . Then we fumbled the snap. We had a quarterback sneak. He could have fell forward easily for a first down; he just fumbled the snap.”
Coastal was one of the better teams in the country on fourth down last year as well. It was 11 of 16 (69 percent) to rank first in the Sun Belt Conference and 10th nationally.
There are just five teams remaining with a perfect fourth-down conversion percentage and of those, Wisconsin has attempted the most with eight. CCU has the best conversion percentage aside from those teams.
“It definitely makes you think, ‘Hey, we’ve done well; let’s continue to do it on fourth down.’ ” Chadwell said. “I think that’s part of going for it on fourth down. One, you have confidence in your defense. You feel like if you don’t get it the defense will get a stop or hold them to a field goal attempt or something of that nature.”
There are a number of reasons the Chants might go for it on fourth down, Chadwell said, and he said they put a significant amount of time into third- and fourth-down situations in practice.
“Sometimes it’s a feel, too, where maybe the flow of the game and maybe I felt like we had a great third-down call and didn’t execute it and I was ticked off so let’s go for it anyway,” Chadwell said. “Sometimes that’s happened, I got mad and we’re just going for it, and fortunately we’ve been able to get it.”
Coastal isn’t nearly as good on third down, ranking 68th at less than 40 percent, though occasionally Chadwell will make a third-down call with fourth down in mind.
“Part of the third-and-shorts you go for on fourth down, I already know I’m going for it on fourth down so maybe my call on third down is a little more conservative knowing I’ve got two downs, so you’re trying to put yourself in that best position to make it on fourth down,” Chadwell said. “. . . We’ve got to continue to do good on first and second down and stay out of third-and-long. We’re not built for third-and-long right now. We have to stay in that third-and-6 range or less for us to have a chance to be really good there.”
Out of time
After Coastal held a time-of-possession advantage in its first five games to rank seventh nationally with an average of 34:36 this season, Georgia State controlled the clock on the Chants.
The Panthers held the ball for 35 minutes compared to CCU’s 25 Saturday. Georgia State was 10 of 19 on third-down conversions and converted both fourth-down opportunities behind senior quarterback Dan Ellington, while CCU was 4 of 14 on third down and 2 of 3 on fourth.
“They had 10 minutes more possession, part of that is we’re not doing our job on third down, but also we didn’t do a good job of getting them off the field at all,” Chadwell said. “Whether it was third-and-long they were able to make a play, or if it was third-and-medium the quarterback really hurt us.”
Coastal had three consecutive games where it possessed the ball at least 34 minutes, and the Chants ranked 15th in FBS in time of possession last year at 32:47.
“I think it’s a vital part to our offense, being able to keep not only our defense off the field and their offense off the field at the same time,” quarterback Fred Payton said. “There are teams in this conference that are going to be good at putting up points and to be able to keep them off the field is vital.
“As far as our defense, it’s just keeping them fresh. They’re not on the field too much so when they do come on the field they have the energy they need to get the stops.”
CCU wide receiver and kick returner Ky’Jon Tyler returned to the field Saturday after missing four games due to a lower-body injury, but the Chants were still without four starters who were injured in Week 2 against Kansas and lost more players over the past week.
Offensive linemen Steven Bedosky and Seth Harrell, linebacker Silas Kelly and safety Enock Makonzo all missed their fourth straight game.
In addition, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Antwine Loper of Carolina Forest High missed the game reportedly because of an emergency appendectomy, starting senior nose tackle Sterling Johnson missed with a tailbone injury, freshman backup running back Reese White, who has 90 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries this season, missed the game with an illness and backup redshirt freshman linebacker Jamar Darboe also wasn’t available.
“Depth-wise, if we get anybody hurt it’s a challenge and we had some unfortunate things throughout the week,” Chadwell said. “Injuries and lack of execution catches up with you.”
Georgia State rushed for 350 yards against the depleted defense.
“When they’re getting some first downs and you’re without a Sterling and without a Silas and you’ve got some guys banged up, you get tired and you don’t have a lot to be able to put in there,” Chadwell said. “So those 3- and 4-yard gains become 10 and 12.”
North Myrtle Beach native Tyler Gore had a homecoming of sorts Saturday.
The sophomore cornerback for Georgia State, who is the son of NMB High assistant principal and former football coach Milton Gore, played his first game at Brooks Stadium and had possibly more than 100 family members and friends in town and attending the game.
Gore started his fifth game of the season and has 14 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception that came in last week’s win over Arkansas State. He had a career-high eight tackles and a pass breakup at Western Michigan and four tackles and a pass breakup in a win over Tennessee.
He earned playing time as a true freshman last year, when he had an interception against Troy.
A new mark
The announced attendance of 17,249 Saturday is the largest crowd to see a football game at Brooks Stadium, surpassing the previous mark of 15,991 versus Georgia State on Oct. 7, 2017, which also fell on Family Weekend at the university.
The total was made possible by a stadium expansion to nearly 20,000 seats that was completed this summer, and most stayed for the duration of the game.
“It’s great to know fans are coming out to support us and know we’re on the rise,” sophomore wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh said. “We’ve got to execute a little bit better, then we’ll bring them a show.
“. . . I feel like more fans are staying just because they know that the program is turning around and we are growing as a team more and more every game. This [loss] is just a little setback. We’ll be fine.”