Three things to Watch as CSU hosts Kennesaw State

Three things to Watch as CSU hosts Kennesaw State

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Just one day away from kickoff between Charleston Southern and No. 2/2 Kennesaw State. In anticipation of tomorrow's game, here are three things to watch between the Bucs and the Owls. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN+.

All game day information is available on the Game Day Central page.

CSU Notes | Kennesaw State Notes | Big South Notes

Since the program's first game on the field back in 2015, Kennesaw State has been known for its ability to run the football effectively. The Owls rushing attack has progressively gotten better in each of their four seasons.

Once again, KSU boasts one of the top rushing games in the country heading into Saturday's matchup. As seen below, the Owls have ranked no worse than sixth in FCS in rushing, and 10th overall in Division I in rushing since 2015.

Kennesaw State Rushing Ranking (Big South/FCS/Division I)
2015 – 293.0 yards per game (1st/6th/10th)
2016 – 320.6 yards per game (1st/3rd/5th)
2017 – 330.2 yards per game (1st/1st/3rd)
2018 – 377.0 yards per game (1st/2nd/2nd)

Kennesaw State has shared the wealth in the rushing game over the last four seasons and has not had an individual player ranked higher than second overall among the conference rushing leaders prior to the 2018 season. Senior quarterback Chandler Burks is currently second overall in the rankings at 73.7 yards per game, while Darnell Holland (57.6, 5th), and Shaquil Terry (49.4, 10th) are also among the Big South's top-10 rushing leaders this season.

The team-first mentality for Kennesaw State's rushing game has been highlighted with five different players receiving at least 30 carries on the season paced by Burks' 94 attempts. Four different players have at least 270 rushing yards led once again by Burks' 516 net rushing yards.

KSU's rushing totals have also led to success inside the red zone. The Owls lead the Big South with 35 rushing touchdowns on the season paced by Burks' FCS-leading 17 scores on the year. Kennesaw State scored 13 rushing touchdowns over their two Big South games this season and have five games with at least six rushing touchdowns this year.

CSU has been one of the few teams to slow down the Owls over the last three seasons. The Bucs limited KSU under 200 rushing yards in each of their first two games, before the Owls broke through with 343 in their 38-0 win last season at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

CSU Defense vs. Kennesaw State Rushing
2015 – 37 carries, 113 rushing yards (3.1 ypc), 1 touchdown – CSU W, 28-14
2016 – 46 carries, 172 rushing yards (3.7 ypc), 1 touchdown – CSU W, 28-7
2017 – 58 carries, 343 rushing yards (5.9 ypc), 5 touchdowns – KSU W, 38-0

The Owls have dominated Big South competition this season. KSU enters the contest posting 487.5 yards per game and 6.5 rushing touchdowns per game in conference competition.

The Buccaneers' pass defense has been among the nation's best this season sitting first overall in the country in 121.5 yards per game. However, CSU's run defense has struggled in the Bucs' three losses this season.

The Bucs surrendered over 200 rushing yards in each of their three losses in 2018. CSU opened the year allowing Florida to pick up 203 yards and a touchdown in the season opener. The following game against Elon, the Phoenix recorded 226 yards and a pair of scores. Savannah State added 213 yards and a trio of touchdowns in the Tigers win.

CSU is currently ranked 68th in FCS in run defense at 179.5 yards per game, but the number has been trending in the Bucs' favor over the last two weeks.  Following back-to-back wins over Virginia Lynchburg and Presbyterian, CSU has gone two weeks without allowing a rushing touchdown and has limited the opposition to 3.0 yards per carry over the stretch.

For CSU to limit Kennesaw State's rushing game, the team will have to control the line of scrimmage. The Bucs will be relying on Solomon Brown and Johnny Robinson to help at the point of attack, while the resurgent play of Jonathan Glover, J.D. Sosebee, and Edward King will attempt to fill in the gaps against the triple option offense.

CSU is ranked 40th in FCS in team tackles for loss and 107th in team sacks on the season, and will need to generate pressure along the line to force third-and-long situations that will force Burks to drop back and target his receiving corps.

Charleston Southern's three 2018 wins have one thing in common – multiple turnovers generated. The Buccaneers are 3-0 this season when the team has forced two or more turnovers against the opposition.

In CSU's 48-14 win over Hampton, the Buccaneers utilized a pick-six from James Allen and four fumble recoveries to down the Pirates. The Bucs added an interception and a fumble recovery against Virginia Lynchburg in their 58-6 win over the Dragons. Last week, another pick-six, this one by Jonathan Slaton, and five fumbles paced CSU to the 41-7 win over Presbyterian.

As seen below, turnover differential and points off turnovers have been key to CSU's success this season.

CSU Turnovers Forced/Points in Wins
Sept. 29 at Hampton – Five Turnovers (1 INT, 4 FR) – W, 48-14 – 13 points
Oct. 13 vs. Virginia Lynchburg – Two turnovers (1 INT, 1 FR) – W, 58-6 – 14 points
Oct. 20 vs. Presbyterian – Six Turnovers (1 INT, 5 FR) – W, 41-7 – 28 points

CSU Turnovers Forced/Points in Losses
Sept. 1 at Florida – Zero Turnovers – L, 53-6
Sept. 22 vs. Elon – One Turnover (1 FR) – L, 31-22 – Three Points
Oct. 6 at Savannah State – One Turnover (1 INT) – L, 23-3

Charleston Southern is back in the plus category in turnover differential this season at plus-four after this past weekend against Presbyterian. The Bucs have been led by Jonathan Slaton's two interceptions, while J.D. Sosebee paces CSU with three fumble recoveries.

If Kennesaw State has had one weakness this season, it has been fumbling the ball. The Owls have turned the ball over nine times this season on the ground and has posted only one game (Clark Atlanta) without a turnover in 2018. The Panthers were able to turn both KSU turnovers into points in their 70-13 loss to the Owls.

CSU has capitalized on the short fields gained in wins over Hampton and Presbyterian. Their ability to force turnovers and shorten the time KSU's offense is on the field will be key.

Charleston Southern's specialists have been among the best in the Big South Conference in each of the last four years. The Bucs have excelled in both the return games, as well as punting and placekicking. CSU will face a tough test this weekend against another strong specialist unit in Kennesaw State.

CSU is among the conference leaders in the multiple special teams categories this season thanks to contributions from Kyle Reighard, Tyler Tekac, Ethan Ray, and Alex Usry.

CSU Special Teams Rankings – Big South
Net Punting – 40.9 ypa (2nd)
Kickoff Coverage – 17.41 ypa (2nd)
Kick Returners – 22.2 ypa (2nd)
Punt Returns – 12.7 ypa (2nd)

The Buccaneers will need to be on the top of their game in order to control the field position battle against a Kennesaw State team that ranked also ranks among the conference and nation's best.

The Owls are first in FCS in kickoff returns averaging 45.7 yards per return behind Isaac Foster's nation-leading two scores on the year. KSU also boasts Courtney Mills, one of the top punt return men in the game who sits third in FCS in punt return touchdowns. The duo have helped propel Kennesaw State to success setting up a number of short fields for the offense.

CSU return specialist Taz Lindsey will also look to help the Bucs in the field position battle. Lindsey and James Allen (kickoff) have helped the Bucs sit second among the conference leaders in both return games.

CSU's duo of Kyle Reighard (42.7 ypa) and Tyler Tekac (7-of-9 FG, Long of 46) will be going up against a talented Kennesaw State duo in punter Nicholas Jones (42.2 ypa) and Justin Thompson (3-of-4, Long of 33). Reighard and Thompson both earned First Team All-Conference recognition last season.

Whoever wins the special teams battle will have a leg up in the competition on Saturday night.

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