Charleston Southern's football season is headed in the wrong direction.
Consecutive one-sided losses to Big South Conference leaders Kennesaw State (38-10) and Monmouth (37-3) leave the Bucs at 3-5 with three games remaining. CSU, which has struggled on offense, won't be favored in any of those games, starting with Saturday’s home finale against Gardner-Webb. The Bucs finish the season with games at Campbell and at The Citadel.
Saturday is Senior Day for CSU and the Bucs will honor 18 senior players. Included in that group is the entire starting secondary as well as fifth-year end Solomon Brown, one of the top defenders in program history.
“We have a number of seniors that have been a part of building this program and we want to honor them with a victory,” CSU coach Mark Tucker says. “This is a character test. How do they want to remember their final year? We have three opportunities left.”
CSU has won its last four Senior Day games and certainly needs a win to get back some mojo for the final two games of the season.
CSU was 6-5 last year, Tucker’s first as head coach. At best, this year’s team can equal that win total, but six-win seasons are a long way from winning conference titles and playing in the postseason, which CSU did in 2015 and 2016.
Gardner-Webb (3-6, 2-1) has won two straight games, beating Campbell and Presbyterian.
Here are three keys to a CSU victory:
Take advantage of GWU's weakness
Gardner-Webb comes into the game 124th in rushing defense nationally, allowing 286 yards per game. The Bulldogs also rank last in the league in total defense, allowing 477 yards and 37.2 points per game.
However, CSU’s offense has been awful this season. Take out a win over Virginia-Lynchburg, CSU has yet to post a 300-yard game in total offense. The Bucs have struggled on third-down conversions (28 percent) and rank 116th nationally in time of possession. CSU’s offense averages 265.9 yards per game, dead last in the conference.
Contain Jordan Smith
Redshirt freshman Jordan Smith has sparked the Gardner-Webb offense, accounting for nearly 200 yards in total offense per game. CSU’s defense is second in total defense in the Big South but has had issues getting off the field of late. CSU’s defense has allowed seven drives of nine or more plays in the last three weeks, all conference games.
Containing Smith and forcing punts is a must for the Bucs’ defensively. CSU’s veteran secondary, ranked second nationally in FCS football, needs to create some turnovers and break up third-down pass plays.
While junior quarterback London Johnson has his moments, most of those are with his feet as a runner. CSU continues to struggle in the passing game. Johnson has completed only 41 of 95 attempts and has three touchdown passes. Receiver Saire Davis is back from injury and had four grabs last week. Kenny Dinkins is a big-play receiver.
Despite the offensive struggles, Tucker remains committed to playing Johnson. CSU had two turnovers in the red zone last week. A poor start on Saturday may lead to backups Jack Chambers and Christian Reid getting a look.
Charleston Southern 24, Gardner-Webb 20