CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern gets an early start on defense of its Big South Conference title Saturday at Monmouth. Kickoff at Kessler Field in West Long Branch, N.J. is slated for 1 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3. Fans can also listen to coverage on csusports.com, with the pregame show starting at 12:45 p.m.
CSU (1-2) enters the matchup off an open week that head coach Jamey Chadwell hopes was beneficial physically and, perhaps more importantly, mentally. Monmouth (2-1) is playing its home opener after wrapping up a season opening road swing with a 27-7 loss at Kent State on Saturday. The Hawks posted an impressive win at Lehigh to start the campaign and followed with a convincing victory over Delaware State.
The Bucs became the second team in Big South history to go 6-0 in league play a year ago and are looking to extend a nine-game conference winning streak that dates back to their last trip to New Jersey. CSU throttled Monmouth, 27-0, in that contest and added an equally thorough 37-7 home triumph in last season's Big South opener.
Chadwell expects to see an improved Monmouth team on Saturday. The Hawks jumped from one win in their inaugural Big South season to three last year and feature a veteran-laden roster under coach Kevin Callahan. Regardless of the opponent, CSU is well aware of the importance of Saturday's outcome with the next conference game almost a month away.
"I don't think you have any margin for error, to be honest with you, so we have to go up there with that mentality," Chadwell said. "When you only have five (conference) games you need to get off to a great start because you don't have a lot of opportunities to make it up if you get behind the eight-ball."
"This game is also unique because being so early it gives one of us a chance to get out of the gate and be 1-0 for a while," Chadwell continued. "Being early, it can put you in the driver's seat. What we've talked about a lot is kind of wiping the past away and starting a new journey. That's what we need to do."
CSU looking for timely open week to pay dividends
CSU dabbled in installing the Monmouth game plan last week but dedicated much of its focus inward. Time to hone in on improving fundamentals while also getting a mental refresher was valuable for the Bucs.
"I think there was a burden off their shoulders," Chadwell said. "One, we had good practices but two, there was a good atmosphere and a good environment for it. Typically, I'm not huge on a bye early in the year because I think you need to get a rhythm going and that breaks the rhythm but in this case with the injuries and everything I think we needed some to time create that rhythm and get our minds and bodies where they need to be."
CSU practiced Monday through Thursday of last week before taking a weekend away from football.
CSU has dominated Monmouth on both sides of the football each of the last two years, recording an almost 600-yard advantage in total offense. Last year's rout was an aberration, though, for the Hawks. Monmouth defeated nationally ranked Liberty and nearly knocked off No. 1 Coastal Carolina as well. It started 2016 with a 23-21 win at a Lehigh club expected to contend for the Patriot League championship.
"It'll be a good game because Coach Callahan has done a great job with their program and the way they've developed since they came into the Big South," Chadwell said. "I think their depth is what really stands out. They've gotten to the point where they have depth on both sides of the ball. I think they're extremely talented on offense and have some good skill guys and then defensively, it's probably the best defense they've had since they've been in the league."
Sophomore quarterback Cody Williams started as a true freshman and has developed a connection with classmate Reggie White Jr., the Big South's leading receiver through three games. Senior running back Lavon Chaney is a versatile threat who missed the Kent State game due to injury.
Defensively, junior safety Mike Basile is the reigning Big South Defensive Player of the Week thanks to a 16-tackle effort against Kent State. Basile had a conference-high 119 tackles in 2015. Up front, senior defensive linemen Dimitrius Smith, Manny Maragoto and Darnell Leslie give Monmouth size and experience.
CSU's 294 yards of offense at Florida State was solid production considering the absence of its top four running backs and four-fifths of the starting offensive line. Back to full strength, the Bucs are hoping for more consistent execution no matter who is at quarterback. London Johnson started against the Seminoles before Robert Mitchell played most of the way, throwing for 142 yards and a touchdown. Shane Bucenell missed the FSU game and has been working back to full speed while sharing first-team repetitions with both Johnson and Mitchell.
The Bucs' defense made plays against the Seminoles, tallying three sacks and seven tackles for loss. CSU did miss out on several chances to get off the field in third and long scenarios early in the game, helping lead to the 28-0 first quarter deficit. Third down efficiency is a big reason the Bucs have held the Hawks to seven points and 227 total yards in two meetings. Monmouth is 2-for-26 on third down in those two games.