No one at Coastal Carolina is hitting the panic button or calling Saturday’s game with Georgia Southern a must win game but the Chanticleers have little wiggle room if they want to repeat as the Sun Belt Conference East Division champions.
Only four games into the season the Chants (2-2, 0-1), thanks to a 30-17 loss to Georgia State, find themselves looking at the possibility of being behind an early eight ball.
It is the conference opener for Georgia Southern (3-1) which is coming off an impressive 40-3 win at Ball State. The Eagles are a 6.5-point favorite and the over-under is 62.5 points.
The 7 p.m. game at Paulson Stadium will be televised on the NFL network. Coastal Carolina, playing the first of three straight conference road games, has won the last three meetings between the teams.
Last year the Chants were 6-2 in the conference and it marked the first time since the SBC went to division play an East champion had two losses. Based on early results among league teams an 0-2 start would be difficult to overcome.
Georgia State took charge from the outset in turning in a strong performance and first-year CCU Coach Tim Beck said his team cannot afford a slow start against the Eagles juggernaut offense.
“They just outplayed us and they deserved to win,” Beck said of the Georgia State game. “We didn’t execute and I didn’t do a very good job getting our guys ready.”
Beck came to Coastal from North Carolina State where he had been the offensive coordinator the last three seasons. He succeeded Jamey Chadwell who took the head coaching job at Liberty University.
Under Chadwell the Chants had become one of the top tier teams in the Sun Belt. Last year they rallied behind quarterback Grayson McCall to overcome a 24-14 fourth quarter deficit for a 34-30 win.
One of the issues in the Georgia State loss was the Chants’ failure to capitalize on red zone opportunities. They were 1-for-4 inside the 20-yard line while GSU was 6-for-6 with three touchdowns and three field goals.
“Offensively we’re still not good enough in the red zone,” Beck said. “We’re not making the plays we need to make when we need to make them and it’s a variety of reasons. It’s hard because offensively you’ve got to have all 11 guys executing at a really high level or you have to have a guy make just a tremendous play. Right now, we’re not doing that.”
McCall, one of the greatest players in conference history, is back and will be making his first appearance at Paulson. He has been the SBC Player of the Year the last three years, the only player to do so.
Although he is in his fifth-year last season was the first time McCall had faced Georgia Southern having missed the previous two games due to injury along with being redshirted his freshman year.
“We had the opportunity to play against Grayson last year and witness what he can do,” Eagles Coach Clay Helton said. “He can beat you with his arm or his legs. It gave us our first knowledge of him as we had not been able to play against him in previous seasons.
“You see talent all over the field,” Helton said. “You know Grayson McCall is the best player in our league. You see Sam Pinckney and what he’s been able to do and you see a very talented defense.”
McCall is averaging 250.75 yards passing per game this season which is fourth in the conference. Georgia Southern’s Brin Davis leads the Sun Belt in passing offense at 322.2 yards per game.
For his career McCall has completed 645-of-921 passes for 9,089 yards and 83 touchdowns. He has rushed for another 1,054 yards and 17 scores. He has been intercepted only 10 times or once every 92 attempts.
Pinckney is a Super Senior transfer from Georgia State the 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver and he, too, has a three-game win streak against the Eagles. He had six catches in last year’s CCU win. Two years ago, he had four catches in a Panthers win over the Eagles and the year before he had 10 for 126 yards in a Panther victory.