Columbia, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - The 12th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks will continue their season-ending four-game homestand at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon, as they tangle with the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Coastal Carolina is in the midst of an excellent season in the lower rungs of college football, going 10-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big South Conference. The Chanticleers come in as the No. 11 team in the latest Sports Network FCS Top-25 poll following a 46-13 win over Presbyterian, and they have secured at least a share of the conference crown.
Once a national championship hopeful, South Carolina fell from the spotlight after losing two of its first seven games, but it has remained in the picture late in the season by going on a three-game win streak, most recently taking down Florida last weekend, 19-14. The Gamecocks are a game behind Missouri in the loss column for first place in the SEC East, but with their league schedule complete, they can do nothing but hope the Tigers falter down the stretch if they hope to earn a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
"We're 6-2 in the conference three years in a row, and that's pretty good for us," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "We'll watch Missouri play a little bit, from a distance. We'll be getting ready for Coastal and try to win our ninth game of the season. We know they're a good team and we know we've had struggles with just about everybody that's come in here this year."
Even though these Palmetto State schools are located just 130 miles apart, they have never previously met.
Coastal Carolina's offense has been spectacular this season, as it averages 45.5 points per game on 512.5 yards per game while committing just nine turnovers in 11 games.
The strength of the unit comes on the ground, where it picks up nearly 284 yards per contest. Lorenzo Taliaferro (1,466 yards) is the FCS's fourth- leading rusher and he has plunged into the end zone 23 times. De'Angelo Henderson (60 carries, 513 yards, five TDs) has also played well in limited opportunities.
Alex Ross calls the shots under center, and he has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 2,282 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has been strong as a rusher as well (365 yards, six TDs).
Matt Hazel is Ross' top target with 49 receptions, 734 yards and six touchdowns, while DeMario Bennett (38 receptions, 570 yards, four TDs) is also having a solid campaign.
The Chanticleers defense hasn't been nearly as strong as their offense, but they have played well enough in holding their opponents to 25.5 points per game.
Quinn Backus makes plays all over the field with 108 tackles, 7.0 TFL and three interceptions. Johnnie Houston also has three picks, while Colton Blackburn and Roderick Holder are tied for the team-lead with 3.0 sacks apiece.
Although South Carolina's offense sputtered against an impressive Florida defense last week (just one touchdown), the unit has been very efficient this season, scoring 30.8 points per game while displaying an impressive balance between the pass (251.4 ypg) and the run (197.1 ypg).
Despite fighting through various injuries, Connor Shaw hasn't missed a game and has been outstanding under center all season long, as he is completing 61.3 percent of his passes, tallied 2,246 total yards and 22 touchdowns while throwing just one interception. The signal caller wasn't at his best last week -- he completed just half his pass attempts (14-of-28) -- but he still finished with 213 yards and a score.
"We just couldn't find the rhythm in the first half down in the red zone," Shaw said of the Gamecocks' matchup with Florida. "The second half, I thought we battled a little bit stronger. We adjusted at halftime and came out and found a way to win."
Mike Davis is the SEC's second-leading rusher with 1,112 yards and he has crossed the goal line 10 times. Shon Carson emerged last week with 102 yards on just 13 touches.
Bruce Ellington is the most reliable receiver with 36 receptions for 541 yards and six touchdowns, while Damiere Byrd (29 receptions, 540 yards, four TDs) is a serious big-play threat. Davis is also trustworthy coming out of the backfield, having logged 30 catches.
South Carolina's defense came into the season with a massive amount of hype thanks to the return of Jadeveon Clowney, and while he's had a disappointing season with just two sacks, the unit as a whole has still played well in allowing only 21.3 points per game.
With Clowney seeing double- and triple-teams, Kelcy Quarles has taken advantage on the opposite side of the defensive line with 11.0 TFL and 7.0 sacks. Jimmy Legree, Victor Hampton and T.J. Holloman all have multiple interceptions, while Skai Moore leads the team with 44 tackles.