CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern and Monmouth take center stage on Saturday night as the Buccaneers host the Hawks in a game streamed on ESPN3 this weekend at Buccaneer Field. Kickoff between the Bucs and the Hawks is set for 6 p.m. with live coverage also being provided on CSUSports.com by the CSU Sports Network.
RUSHING OFFENSE VS. RUSHING DEFENSE
The Charleston Southern rushing offense has been nigh unstoppable in the friendly confines of Buccaneer Field this season as CSU has racked up 987 rushing yards over its three home games in the 2017 season. The Bucs gained 320 yards on the ground in their home opener against Point with Noah Shuler leading the offense with 79 yards on 11 carries. Terrence Wilson (two carries, 106 yards, two touchdowns) led the Bucs with a season-high 359 yards on the ground on his way to earning Big South Freshman of the Week honors in CSU's 58-7 win over Mississippi Valley State. This past weekend, London Johnson carried the ball a career-high 16 times for 117 yards in CSU's 52-27 win over Savannah State.
The Buccaneers' balanced rushing attack has paced CSU in the 2017 season with 14 different ball-carriers toting the ball. Eight different players have recorded double-digit carries on the season led by Shuler's 67 carries for a team-high 324 yards. Shuler also leads the Bucs with five rushing touchdowns on the year. The Goose Creek, S.C. native is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt at home this year.
Redshirt sophomore Ronnie Harris (52 carries, 312 yards) and Johnson (43 carries, 301 yards) are both over 300 yards rushing for the season to help supplement the attack. Harris led the Bucs in both of CSU's FBS games in 2017 with 18 yards against Mississippi State and 71 yards on 10 carries against Indiana. Johnson has two carries of at least 40 yards with a 54-yard touchdown run against Point and a 45-yard touchdown against MVSU.
CSU has been held under 150 rushing yards just twice in the 2017 season with the Bucs limited to 18 yards in the opener at Mississippi State and 134 yards in the loss to Indiana. Conversely, Monmouth's defense has held all seven 2017 opponents under the 150 rushing yard mark, including limiting Lafayette to -1 yards on 24 carries in the season opener. The Hawks are allowing 89.7 rushing yards per game in 2017.
Defensively, the Bucs have been among the nation's best at stopping the run at home. CSU has allowed 61 total rushing yards at Buccaneer Field in the 2017 season with only Point cracking the 50-yard mark against the Bucs in Charleston. The Skyhawks recorded 61 rushing yards on 43 carries in CSU's home opener with the longest carry from scrimmage totaling 15 yards.
The Bucs held MVSU to -24 rushing yards on 27 carries the following week; the second-lowest rushing total by an opponent in CSU program history. This past weekend against Savannah State, the Bucs gave up 24 rushing yards and the first touchdown on the ground at home in the 2017 season.
Monmouth's lone loss in the 2017 season came in the only game when the Hawks were held below 100 rushing yards. Albany limited Monmouth to 63 yards on 32 carries on their way to topping the Hawks 28-14. The Hawks have gained at least 150 yards in six different games, including three games with at least 250 rushing yards in the 2017 season.
Leading the Hawks' rushing efforts are redshirt freshmen Pete Guerriero and Eric Zokourki. Guerriero leads the Big South Conference with 97.7 rushing yards per game, while Zokouri has averaged 117.0 rushing yards over four games played on the year.
The last time the Bucs faced off against the conference's rushing leader at the time, CSU limited Presbyterian's Torrance Marable to 28 yards on 13 carries (2.2 ypc) with a longest run of eight yards.
STOPPING THE PASS
Along with their terrific rushing game, the Hawks are among the most balanced offensive teams in all of FCS college football as far as yards gained. They rank as one of only 10 teams in the nation, and the only team in the Big South, to average at least 200 yards both through the air and on the ground.
Quarterback Kenji Bahar is second in the Big South in total offense (216.3 yards per game) and 1,454 passing yards on the season trailing only Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert. Bahar has helmed a passing attack that has eclipsed 200 yards in four of the seven games, including a season-high 324 and three touchdowns in the 48-36 win over Holy Cross. He followed up with 244 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns last week in Monmouth's 56-39 win over Liberty.
Reggie White, Jr. has been the primary target for the Hawks in the 2017 season. The junior wide receiver has posted back-to-back 100-yard receiving efforts and three total this season to sit among the conference leaders with 49 catches for 619 yards and six touchdowns. White posted a nine-catch, 137-yard game with two touchdowns in the Holy Cross win. He followed up with 10 catches for 187 yards and a pair of scores against Liberty. White has posted at least four receptions in all seven games in 2017.
Countering Monmouth's passing attack will be the relentless CSU pass rush and the cornerback play of Shadarius Hopkins and Jonathan Slaton. Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Anthony Ellis leads the "Blue Swarm" defense with a team-high 5.5 sacks on the year. All-Conference linebacker Solomon Brown came alive this past weekend with a career-high 2.5 sacks and an interception in the Bucs' win over Savannah State.
CSU has accumulated 19.0 of their 25.0 sacks at Buccaneer Field in the 2017 season, including a program-record nine in the Bucs win over Mississippi Valley State. Fifteen different players have recorded sacks in the 2017 season paced by Ellis' efforts, while fellow lineman Johnny Robinson is second on the team with 3.0 sacks on the year. In Monmouth's lone loss in 2017, the Hawks allowed five of their 10 sacks during the contest.
Hopkins and Slaton will lead the Bucs defensive back efforts against White and company. The Bucs allowed 201 passing yards last season in CSU's 35-7 win over the Hawks in West Long Branch, N.J. CSU has allowed six opponents to eclipse the 100-yard passing mark in the 2017 season with MVSU (318) and Indiana (321) posting back-to-back 300-yard efforts against CSU.
SPECIAL TEAMS UNITS AT THEIR BEST
The conference's best kickoff and punt coverage units will face off against two of the nation's best return teams this weekend at Buccaneer Field as the Buccaneers take on Monmouth. The Bucs coverage units have been among the conference's best this season leading the way in both kickoff return coverage and net punting in the 2017 season. Monmouth counters with the second-best kickoff return unit and the top punt return team this year.
Kickoff specialist David Kennedy has made a career of putting the ball in the right place at the right time, including last weekend's pooch kick down the sideline that led to the Savannah State fumble. Kennedy's unit is 13th in the nation and first in the Big South in allowing 17.17 kickoff return yards per attempt in 2017. The Bucs have not allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in the 2017 season with Mississippi State coming the closest with a 52-yard return in the season opener.
Monmouth counters with the multi-talented Guerriero who took one 95-yards to the house last weekend to spark the Hawks' win over Liberty. MU is second in the Big South with 22.44 yards per return; good enough for 29th in the FCS this season. Lonnie Moore leads the team with 21.0 yards per return.
Redshirt sophomore punter Kyle Reighard leads the top-ranked punt unit in the 2017 season and eighth-best team in FCS play after posting 39.1 yards per net punt. Reighard leads the Big South with 41.5 yards per attempt on the year over 40 attempts with 12 falling inside the 20-yard line and 14 fair caught on the year.
Monmouth leads the conference and is sixth in the FCS in 2017 with 16.36 yards per punt return. Senior Kamau Dumas has 11 returns for 180 yards and a touchdown on the year to pace the Monmouth efforts on the season.