Charleston Southern coach Autry Denson has a simple policy when it comes to playing time. The players that practice the best during the week will get into the game.
Still, it came as a surprise to many when the Buccaneers started true freshman quarterback Ross Malmgren over Jack Chambers against crosstown rival and No. 25-ranked The Citadel Saturday night.
Under the circumstances, on the road against a rival, Malmgren played fine, but Chambers turned out to be a difference maker in the second half during The Citadel’s 22-13 victory Saturday night at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Chambers had started the first three games of the season for the Bucs (0-4), but Denson said his performance during practice last week didn’t warrant a start against the Bulldogs.
“We reserve the right to play the best 11 players,” Denson said. “We don’t regret starting Ross. Our guys audition for reps during practice. Monday through Friday is where they earn their playing time. Those guys that practice the best will play. It’s open competition.”
Malmgren completed 10 of 26 passes for 112 yards and an interception as the Bucs’ offense sputtered during the first half and failed to score a touchdown.
Trailing 7-6 coming out of the locker room for the second half, Denson inserted Chambers into the lineup. The 5-10, 170-pound sophomore rushed for 94 yards and threw for 92 more yards as the Bucs tried to rally for the win. He made an immediate impact on the game, rushing for 37 yards on one scramble and hooking up with Quinn Caballero for a 29-yard gain on the Bucs' first offensive possession of the second half.
“They brought in their backup quarterback and he did a heck of a job,” said Citadel coach Brent Thompson. “He’s very dynamic. He gave them a spark. He was very tough to tackle.”
Chambers led the Bucs on two scoring drives in the second half, including a 27-yard TD pass to Garris Schwarting that cut the gap to 20-13 with 10:41 to play.
“I think when Jack came in, it was his night and he made some plays," Denson said. "We've seen it happen the other way. Hindsight is always 20-20. Those 11 guys that were on the field deserved to play and we felt gave us the best chance to go up and down the field and I stand behind that.”
Trailing 22-13 with less than four minutes to play, Chambers sparked a 79-yard march to the Citadel 1, highlighted by his 33-yard scramble.
It appeared that he might have scored on the run, but replays showed Chamber came up just short of the goal line.
“I thought he got in on the very first run,” Denson said. “I thought he was in the end zone.”
The Bucs failed to score on the next four plays.
“I think some things had to go our way that were out of our control that had nothing to do with our opponent,” Denson said. “I thought we were the better team tonight. The frustration isn’t with my guys, it’s with the things we can’t control, and I’ll leave it at that. I’m very proud of my guys. They had obstacle after obstacle thrown at them and they rose to the challenge. Our effort was unbelievable.”