Charleston Southern’s top-ranked defense strives to be even better

Charleston Southern defenders celebrate a stop during the Bucs’ victory over Gardner-Webb on Oct. 24. Jim Killian/CSU Athletics

Good defensive units work in unison. Without a strong front line, other areas of the defense usually struggle.

Conversely, if a defense is weak on the back end, success is not consistent. After all, the secondary is the last line of defense.

Charleston Southern (7-1, 4-0 in Big South) continues to bank heavily on its defense this season. The Buccaneers, who are ranked No. 13 this week in the FCS coaches’ poll, also have No. 1 total defense in FCS football. The front seven does its part, ranking first nationally against the run. A veteran secondary more than holds its own as well, ranking third nationally in overall pass defense while allowing only 138.4 passing yards per game.

While the CSU secondary is more than adequate at defending passes, it is the ability to aid in the run game that has set it apart from past units.

The four starters — senior corner Malcolm Jackson, sophomore corner Troy McGowens, and junior safeties D.J. Curl and Corbin Jackson — have combined for 113 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups through the first eight games.

But tackling, says secondary coach Cory Peoples, is the key to getting and staying on the field.

“If you don’t tackle, you won’t play,” said Peoples, who played safety at South Carolina and spent three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. “There is no Deion Sanders mentality of all cover and no tackle. We want our guys to be in the run-stop game and to be physical players. We’re going to set the edge when it needs to be set and we’re going to do our part. Fortunately, we’re really good up front and the defense starts there. They make our job easier.”

Curl, a junior out of Hampton, Ga., says the secondary thrives on its ability, as a group, to be a physical part of the game.

“Our word for this season is savage, and we try to embrace that in our playing style” said Curl, who has 31 tackles and an interception this season. “We want other teams to know if you break our front seven, we’re going to be there to smack you in the mouth. At the same time, we have to defend the passing game and it takes a lot of team work.”

Corbin Jackson, a Marietta, Ga., native, says the reason the secondary has been strong is because of the bond the unit has off the field.

“We talk a lot, in group texts and whatever, outside of football,” Jackson said. “We’re together a lot and I think that has helped us develop a trust in each other that helps us during the game. We always know where everyone else is and we all want to do our part to help this team win.”

Malcolm Jackson, noted league-wide as one of the top corners, is the team leader in the back. Already this season, Jackson has nine pass breakups and ranks fourth in Big South history with 29 career breakups. While Peoples is the coach on the sideline, Jackson acts as the coach on the field.

“No question, he’s our leader and his experience is his strength,” Peoples said. “I know he will hold the other guys accountable. If there is a message I want these guys to get, I go to Malcolm.

“Our chemistry is really strong and Malcolm is a big reason. They work a lot on their own as a unit and they spend a lot of time together. Malcolm is the glue.”

Despite national rankings, Curl says the best is yet to come with the CSU defense and, in particular, the secondary.

“We have a lot of growing to do and we can definitely improve,” Curl said. “We won the Coastal game last week but we know we didn’t play our best. That’s what keeps pushing us — just get better and better and never be satisfied.”

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