CSU vs. Savannah State Game NotesOctober 4, 2007
By CSU Sports Information
The Buccaneers play their final non-conference game before the start of Big South play in a homecoming match-up against the FCS Independent Savannah State Tigers Saturday afternoon at CSU Stadium. CSU (2-3), coming off a come-from-behind 46-33 victory at North Greenville last week, has won 11 consecutive home games and with a victory will match the Big South’s all-time record home winning streak.
This will be the third straight season that CSU and Savannah St. meet on the gridiron and fourth match-up overall between the schools, with the Bucs having won the first three head-to-head. CSU beat the Tigers 38-13 in Savannah on October 7 last season. Savannah St. (1-3), coming off a 33-2 loss at Division II Fort Valley State last Saturday, has its lone victory against Johnson C. Smith, a team CSU also handled earlier this season. The Bucs need four more victories to secure a third consecutive winning season.
CSU vs. Savannah State Game Notes
After trailing by nine points early in the fourth quarter, CSU rallied to score 22 unanswered points in a span of five and 1/2 minutes and stun North Greenville 46-33 at Younts Stadium Saturday night, snapping a five-game road losing streak in the process. On a night in which the team’s combined for 1,007 yards of total offense (537 for CSU), the Bucs took advantage of two late Crusaders turnovers to get the come-from-behind victory.
Down 33-24 with just over eight minutes left, CSU QB Eli Byrd hit Dee Brown for a score, his second TD catch of the night and Byrd’s fourth TD pass, that cut the deficit to 33-31. Then after the Bucs forced North Greenville into a 4th and 3 at their own 32 yard line, the Crusaders attempted a fake punt during which punter Justin Jones fumbled all the way back into the endzone and CSU’s Alexius Ferguson recovered it for the go-ahead TD. A Jon Carmon interception on the ensuing North Greenville possesion set up Ferguson’s 16-yard TD scamper that capped the rally with 2 and 1/2 minutes remaining.
After the home-opening victory against Johnson C. Smith on Sept. 15, the Bucs have won 11 consecutive home games dating back to the 2005 season, a streak one shy of matching the longest home run in Big South history. The team’s last home loss came against Howard on 10.1.05. Coastal Carolina won 12 consecutive home games from 9.11.04 through 11.12.05. Starting with this week’s game against Savannah State, the Bucs will finish the season with four of their final six games at home.
CSU is being outscored 102-59 by its opponents in the second half of games this season (and 206-138 overall) through five games. However, the Bus had been outscored 41-6 in the fourth quarter through four games before putting up 22 points at North Greenville in the final period to earn a come-from-behind victory.
The Defense Rests
CSU’s defense has struggled this season, having allowed 431 yards per game (105th in the nation out of 116 FCS teams) and 41 points per game (111th/116) through five contests. The past two games the Bucs have allowed a combined total of 980 yards (490/gm), 718 of which have come through the air (73%), and 99 points (49.5/gm).
Who’s the Ross?
Redshirt senior linebacker Jada Ross, currently 20th in the nation in tackles, became the Big South’s all-time leading tackler with a team-leading 10-stop performance against Hawai’i on Sept. 22.
Ross, a preseason all-conference selection and a TSN second-team preseason all-American, now has 376 career tackles, 12 more than former Coastal Carolina Chanticleer LB Jamar Leath (364 from ‘03-’06). The Summerville, SC native has led the Bucs in tackles in four of the team’s five games this season (11 at Wofford, 16 at The Citadel, 10 at Hawai’i, 9 at North Greenville).
Byrd in Flight
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Eli Byrd has started the first five contests behind center for the Bucs in 2007, making him CSU’s first starting QB other than Collin Drafts since the beginning of the 2003 season. Byrd, currently leading the Big South and ranking 20th in the nation in total offense (258 yards/gm), has completed 104-of-187 passes this season for 1,167 yards and nine TDs (also eight INTs). He is also second on the Bucs with 122 rushing yards.
Byrd had played QB only one game in his career entering the season, taking over for an injured Drafts in the second half of a loss at Liberty on Nov. 11, 2006. The former football and basketball standout at Fletcher High School in Jacksonville, Florida saw time as a wide receiver in two games last season, totaling two catches for 13 yards and also a two-point conversion.
Redshirt junior Sidney Bryant serves as Byrd’s back-up at quarterback. Bryant, who backed up Drafts for each of the last two seasons, has appeared in 14 games during his three-year career (3 this season) but totaled only 30 pass attempts. The Tampa, Florida native took snaps in four games last season and completed 6-of-10 passes for a total of 67 yards and a touchdown.
Redshirt senior Kenny Harper, the leading returning ball carrier for CSU this season, has played sparingly in the first five games of ‘07 because of injury. Harper, who rushed 100 times for 417 yards and five TDs in 2006, has only three carries for 20 yards in this season. He has also compiled 4 receptions for 21 yards.
Redshirt junior Alexius Ferguson heads a committee of running backs besides Harper to see action for the Bucs thus far this season. Ferguson (41 rush, 134 yds) has been joined in the backfield by transfer Michael Jefferson (23 rush, 110 yds) and true freshman DeMarcus Moon (19 rush, 112 yds). CSU is only 105th out of 116 FCS teams in rushing yardage this season (95 rush ypg).
Redshirt junior running back Alexius Ferguson has established himself as one of CSU’s primary ball-handlers in 2007 after serving as a back-up the previous two years. Ferguson had 43 total carries over three seasons before getting 22 rushes for 92 yards and a TD at North Greenville last week. He also recovered a fumble for the go-ahead score late in that contest. Ferguson, who has received an increased amount of carriers each week this season, leads all Bucs in rushing yards (134), return yards (270) and all-purpose yards (455).
Banged up Bucs
CSU has been hard hit by the injury bug this season. Several Bucs at key positions are banged up entering Saturday’s contest, many on the offensive side of the ball where several projected starters are questionable for the game.
The depleted receiving corps got a boost last week when the leading returning WR from last season Markus Murry and big-play threat Vernon Huger each returned from injury after missing two games. Sophomore Tim Jones has been limited the past two weeks with an ankle problem and remains questionable this week. Senior running back Kenny Harper has missed most of the season with multiple injuries and is again out this week, while sophomore RB Michael Jefferson missed last week’s contest with an ankle injury and is questionable for Savannah St. On the offensive line, projected starters Zach Mitchell, J.W. Myers and Jordan Lancaster are all out for the season.
On the defensive side, CSU continues to miss two of its top linebackers. Senior LB Josh Mitchell, fourth on the team in tackles in 2006, will miss the entire 2007 season, while senior LB Jonna Lee, second on the Bucs with 80 tackles last year, will miss his sixth straight game Saturday. Senior safety C.J. Hirschman suffered an ankle injury at North Greenville and is out this week, as is senior DB and long snapper Darius Jackson.
Long Road to Hoe
With its victory at North Greenville on Sept. 29, CSU snapped a five-game road losing streak that dated back to 10.7.06 at Savannah State. CSU is only 7-17 in road games under Jay Mills, while the squad is 17-8 at home during Mills’ tenure. The Bucs have only two road contests remaining this season (at Gardner-Webb 10.27 and at VMI 11.3)
This season’s road losses have come against difficult competition, as CSU began the campaign with games against Southern Conferences foes The Citadel and Wofford, two teams each receiving national recognition in the polls (The Citadel is receiving votes while Wofford is ranked #8 in TSN’s FCS Poll). CSU also traveled to play Hawaii, an FBS opponent currently ranked #16 by the A.P.
Transfer WR Dee Brown has quickly become Eli Byrd’s favorite target this season. Brown, who has three TD receptions in the last two weeks, leads CSU and all Big South players with 31 catches this season. CSU has had a WR lead the conference in receptions every year in Big South football history (five total seasons, since 2002). The junior’s 13 receptions at Wofford 9.8 tied a school record for most catches in a game, also held by Maurice Price and the late Eddie Gadson. Brown’s 13 grabs, only one shy of matching a Big South all-time record, came in only his second game played with the Bucs after transferring from Garden City CC in Kansas.
vs. NON D-I opponents...
Including wins this season against Johnson C. Smith and North Greenville, the Bucs have won eight straight games against non-Division I opponents dating back to the 2005 season (seven against Division II schools and one against NAIA opposition). The team’s last loss to a non-Div. I opponent came on 9.10.05 at home to Division II Presbyterian. CSU is 12-6 under Jay Mills against non-Div. I opposition (and 12-19 against D-I schools).
Hitting Some Milestones
-Sophomore QB Eli Byrd established new single-game Big South records for completions (34) and pass attempts (54) last week at North Greenville. Byrd also totaled 398 passing yards in the contest, the third-most in a single game in conference history.
-Junior WR Markus Murry returned from injury at North Greenville and caught six passes for 88 yards to become the 15th player in Big South history with 1,000 career receiving yards. Murry (1,039 career yards) is the fourth Buc to accomplish that feat.
-Senior PK Nick Ellis, who is 20-22 on kicks this season (4-6 FGs and 16-16 PATs), is now 3rd in Big South history with 114 career extra points. Ellis needs four more PATs to move into second place all-time, but is still 64 away from passing Coastal Carolina’s Josh Hoke for the top spot in conference history (177).
The Ultimate Warrior
Redshirt junior DB Josh Warrior, only two years removed from a serious back injury that forced him to miss the entire 2005 season, has turned himself into one of the top secondary players in the Big South. The Orange Park, Florida native is second on the Bucs with 32 tackles this season, and also leads the team with two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 2007.
Moving on Up!
Redshirt sophomore running back Michael Jefferson has made an immediate impact in his first season after transferring from Carson-Newman College. Jefferson impressed during fall practice and has risen near the top of the RB depth chart in a short time since becoming eligible to participate this past summer. In only his third collegiate game, Jefferson rushed for 104 yards and three TDs on 15 carries against Johnson C. Smith on 9.15.
The former Wando High School standout (in nearby Mt. Pleasant, S.C.), who was that school’s Homecoming King in 2004, has been limited the past two weeks by an ankle injury. Jefferson redshirted at Carson-Newman in 2005 but never played a down.
Drafts Day No More
Four-year starting quarterback Collin Drafts, no longer the signal caller for the Bucs, has returned to the CSU program as an assistant coach working with the QBs. Drafts, a three-time All-Conference selection and the school’s all-time leader in passing and total offense, recently finished his first professional season as a back up for the Tri-Cities (Wa.) Fever of the Arena Football 2 League. The Beaufort, SC native started the final two games of the 2007 season behind center for the Fever, including a playoff contest, because of an injury to the starting signal caller. In two impressive starts, Drafts combined to complete 40-of-71 pass attempts for 488 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Maurice Price, CSU’s all-time leading receiver and an AP and TSN All-American in 2006, decided to leave the Bucs prior to his senior season and turn professional. Though going undrafted, Price signed a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs and was having a strong training camp before injuring his shoulder in mid-August. The Chiefs have placed the Orlando, Florida native on injured reserve, meaning he will miss the entire 2007 season. Price caught 202 passes in three seasons with the Bucs, totaling 2,429 yards and 19 touchdowns.
After solid performances against Johnson C. Smith Sept. 15, sophomore DB Philip Ashley was named the Big South defensive player of the week while freshman RB DeMarcus Moon earned Big South freshman of the week honors. Ashley returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a TD against the Golden Bulls (the first blocked FG TD for CSU since 10.18.98), while Moon rushed for 74 yards and a TD on seven fourth-qaurter carries.
Scouting the Tigers
Savannah State enters Saturday’s contest at 1-3 after a 33-2 loss at Division II Fort Valley State last week, during which the team’s lone points came on an interception return of a two-point conversion attempt. The Tigers, an FCS Independent, recorded a 24-10 victory against Johnson C. Smith on Sept. 8, one week before the Bucs defeated JCSU 44-20.
Head Coach Theo Lemon is in his second season at the helm of the Savannah St. program and currently holds a 3-12 record at the school. The Tigers are 0-12 in program history against Big South opponents (including 0-3 against CSU), and only 6-52 in six seasons since going Division I-AA (now FCS) starting in the 2002 season. In six D-I seasons, the Tigers have only one victory against a fellow D-I opponent (41-34 at Norfolk State, 9.11.04).
Savannah State lost at home to CSU 38-13 last season, as Collin Drafts passed for 276 yards and two TDs and rushed for 87 yards and two TDs. The Tigers have been outscored 135-46 through four games this season, including 67-10 in the first half of games.
Freshman RB Antwan Edwards leads the Tigers offense, averaging 74 yards on the ground through four games and 5.5 yards per carry. Sophomore QB JaCorey Kilcrease has started three of Savannah State’s four games under center, and is completing 54% of his passes for two TDs and one INT.
The Bucs placed six players on the Big South’s Preseason All-Conference Team, led by four members of coach Darrell Perkins’ defense. Seniors Dennis Justiniani, Jada Ross and C.J. Hirschman in addition to redshirt junior Okeba Rollinson were all selected to the list that was voted on by coaches, media members and sports information directors. Senior center Rick Howell, the leader of the Bucs offensive line, was the lone member of the CSU offense selected to the team, while senior kicker Nick Ellis was voted as the place kicker for the All-Conference unit.
Run of the Mills
Head Coach Jay Mills is in his fifth season as the head coach at CSU and currently holds a career record of 24-25. Under his leadership, the Bucs program has improved every season - going from one win in 2003 to five in 2004, then to seven victories and a Big South championship in 2005. Last season, CSU opened the campaign 9-0 before losses at Liberty and at Coastal Carolina left the team with a 9-2 mark, the best in school history.
Reaching New Heights
In addition to winning a school-record nine games in 2006, the Bucs established many school firsts last season. CSU football compiled a 14-game overall winning streak dating back to the final five games of the ‘05 campaign, the longest overall winning streak in Big South history and second longest in the nation last season (the University of San Diego had an 18-game streak). With nine victories, CSU broke the school record for wins in a season for a second consecutive year, besting the seven-win total for 2005.
Against FBS Opponents...
After losing at Hawai’i Sept. 22, CSU has played four games against FBS competition (Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A) in program history. Below is a list of CSU’s games against FBS opponents.
Date Opponent Conference Result
Nov. 21, 1996 @UAB Independent L 49-13
Nov. 2, 2002 @South Florida Independent L 56-6
Oct. 18, 2003 @South Florida Conf. USA L 55-7
Sept. 22, 2007 @#19 Hawai’i WAC L 66-10