CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern continues the 2017 season this weekend at Elon on College Sports live. In preparation for the 6 p.m. ET kickoff, here are three things to watch for in Saturday's contest.
ELON PASSING GAME AGAINST THE CSU FRONT SEVEN
Elon freshman quarterback Davis Cheek had a game for the ages against Furman in his second career start as the Matthews, N.C. native completed 26 of his 35 pass attempts for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the contest. He became the first Phoenix quarterback to throw for three scores in a game since 2014 and engineered the game-winning drive in the final minute last weekend against Furman.
Cheek bounced back from a rough outing in his first start against Toledo in the opener and boasts a 62.22% completion percentage and averaged 161.5 yards per game through the air. The 6-2 athlete has spread the ball to six different receivers in the season with Kortez Weeks (10 catches, 99 yards) and Tre Lennon (nine catches, 83 yards, two touchdowns) the primary benefactors of the passing offense.
Unlike the Buccaneers' opponent in the first week (Mississippi State's Nick Fitzgerald), Cheek is not an active threat on the ground. Cheek has carried the ball seven times for six yards over his two games.
CSU's strength over the past few seasons has been their pass defense and their quarterback pressure. The Bucs failed to record a sack in the first game against the Bulldogs, but led by pressure from Zane Cruz, CSU did record five tackles for loss. Mississippi State threw for 274 yards on a 20-of-36 day by the MSU quarterbacks, taking advantage of a mostly clean pocket on the day.
With CSU returning to FCS competition this weekend, the Bucs' pass rush is expected to be in full force with bookend defensive ends Anthony Ellis and Solomon Brown ready to get after the quarterback. The CSU duo finished 1-2 in the Big South last season in tackles for loss, and Ellis led the conference in sacks (7.0) as the Bucs controlled the trenches on the defensive line in 2017. CSU finished third in the NCAA in passing yards allowed (158.8) and 18th in sacks per game (2.64). Furman got to Cheek three times last week and the Bucs will need to increase the pressure to keep the freshman from getting comfortable in the pocket.
THE CSU RUSHING GAME VS. THE PHOENIX DEFENSE
Elon has struggled to stop the run over the first two games of the 2017 season with the Phoenix allowing over 200 yards rushing against both Toledo and Furman. The Phoenix allowed 239 yards and four rushing touchdowns in the opener against Toledo. Last week at Furman, Elon allowed 258 yards on 57 carries. The Paladins found the end zone three times in the eventual loss to the Phoenix.
While opponents have racked up the yards, Elon has been able to limit the big plays. Toledo's longest run came late in the fourth quarter when Shakif Seymour opened up a late run with a 44-yard pickup with 5:02 remaining in the contest. Furman's longest run of the game started the second half when Darius Morehead opened up the drive with an 18-yard gain.
Leading the pack for the Phoenix has been defensive back Tyler Campbell (22 tackles, 2.0 TFL). Elon transitioned to a 3-3-5 defensive with a trio of safeties playing over the middle this year, which is a different look than CSU is used to seeing over the past five years.
The Bucs running game failed to gain traction in the opener against Mississippi State as CSU was held to 18 yards' offense on the ground. Ronnie Harris led the way with seven carries for 18 yards, while Robert Mitchell picked up 11 yards on three late carries to pace the Bucs' rushing offense.
The effort was a far cry from CSU's normal output over the last four years as CSU has been among the FCS leaders in rushing offense since 2013. The Bucs averaged 266.5 yards rushing last season, finishing sixth in the NCAA and second in the Big South in the category. CSU will look to bounce back against a Phoenix team that was ranked 109th in the category last year after allowing 229.8 yards per game on the ground.
Elon jumped out to a 21-0 lead last weekend following a pair of early fumbles by the Furman offense in the first quarter. That made five forced fumbles and three recoveries for the Elon defense over the first two games of the season as the Phoenix defense sits among the nation's best with a +2.00 turnover ratio on the season.
The Bucs did not turn the ball over in their first contest of the season against Mississippi State, but CSU did fumble four times in the game. CSU was able to recover all four miscues, but one directly led to a Bulldogs' safety. With an offense predicated on the rushing attack, the Bucs will have to make sure they hold onto the ball against an opportunistic defense.