The No. 18 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are now set to host the No. 13 BYU Cougars on Saturday for a high-stakes matchup between undefeated teams, marking the first-ever meeting between the two schools. It will also be ESPN College GameDay's first visit to the Coastal campus for this "can''t miss" matchup.
Coastal Carolina was originally set to face Liberty on Saturday for a highly anticipated top-25 matchup. Unfortunately, COVID-19 issues within the Liberty football program forced the cancellation of that game, opening the door for BYU to step in on short notice. The Cougars did so gladly, desperately needing to boost their College Football Playoff resume with a signature win. The good news is that we now have a top-20 matchup between undefeated teams with even more on the line. And much like the previously scheduled contest, there is no shortage of intrigue as these non-Power 5 heavyweights look to keep their perfect seasons intact. While the winner of this game isn't going to make the leap into a playoff spot, a New Year's Six bowl game could be within reach for the team that comes out on top.
BYU has dominated the competition en route to its unblemished 9-0 record, scoring 41 points or more in eight of those nine victories. BYU also is one of just two teams that rank in the top 10 nationally in both total offense (No. 5 in FBS) and total defense (No. 7), the other being Clemson. The Cougars have outscored their last five opponents by an average margin of 34.4 points, with their most recent victory being a 66-14 shellacking of FCS North Alabama in Provo back on Nov. 21. It's been almost a month since the Cougars' last road game, which resulted in their most impressive win of the season — a 51-17 blowout of a then-unbeaten and nationally ranked Boise State team. That also was the last time BYU faced an FBS opponent. The Cougars will now make the cross-country trek to Conway, South Carolina, to face the Chanticleers for what might just be their most difficult challenge of the season.
It has been a magical run for a Coastal Carolina team that was picked to finish dead last in the Sun Belt East in the preseason. The Chanticleers not only proved the naysayers wrong by clinching their first-ever Sun Belt East title with last week's 49-14 drubbing of Texas State on the road, but they are also off to the best start of any team in conference history with a perfect 9-0 record. For their efforts, the Chants have achieved the highest-ever national ranking for a Sun Belt team, coming in at No. 14 in the latest AP poll and No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They have captured the attention and the hearts of the nation in the process. But with undefeated BYU coming to town on Saturday, Coastal Carolina will face its toughest test to date by far. Can the Chanticleers hold off the Cougars to keep their storybook season alive and reach 10 wins for the first time since joining the FBS ranks?
No. 13 BYU at No. 18 Coastal Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Spread: BYU -10
When BYU Has the Ball
Quarterback Zach Wilson is the catalyst for one of the most explosive offenses in the nation — an offense that averages a ridiculous 47.6 points and 536 yards per game. Wilson has put up Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers in his third season as the starting quarterback for the Cougars. He ranks seventh nationally in passing yards (2,724) and is in the top three in the nation in completion percentage (74.3), touchdown passes (26), yards per attempt (11.5), and passing efficiency (205.3). He's also thrown just two interceptions in nine games. Wide receiver Dax Milne has been Wilson's go-to target, leading the team in both receptions (49) and receiving yards (906). Tight end Isaac Rex has been Wilson's favorite red-zone target with a team-high eight touchdown catches. And wide receiver Gunner Romney serves as the deep threat, averaging 20.8 yards per catch.
The BYU passing attack presents a daunting challenge for the Coastal Carolina defense. But the Chanticleers' "Black Swarm" might just be up to the task with one of the top pass defenses in the country, allowing a modest 181.1 yards per game (12th in the FBS) and just eight touchdown passes all season. The Chants also have 11 interceptions on the season, led by star cornerback D'Jordan Strong's five. The most intriguing matchup will pit a potent CCU pass rush that has produced 31 sacks (sixth in FBS) against a BYU offensive line that has surrendered just eight sacks and grades out as the second-best O-line in all of college football (according to Pro Football Focus). Defensive end and three-time Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week Tarron Jackson is a terror off the edge and leads the Chanticleers with 8.5 sacks (fourth in FBS), followed by standout defensive tackle C.J. Brewer with 6.5. Meanwhile, BYU left tackle Brady Christensen is on pace to achieve the highest single-season PFF grade ever for a college tackle, grading out at an unheard of 96.2.
Even if the Coastal defense is up to the challenge against the BYU passing game, the Chants will still have to contend with a very dangerous BYU ground attack that has produced 29 rushing touchdowns (second in FBS) and averages 202.3 yards per contest. Sophomore running back Tyler Allgeier (118 att., 851 yds., 11 TDs) leads the charge, averaging a very impressive 7.2 yards per carry. Wilson (51, 191, 8) is a gifted runner as well. And junior running back Lopini Katoa (61, 329, 5) will add to the threat if he is able to return this week from an ankle injury. BYU will be paired against a good, but not necessarily great, Coastal Carolina run defense that allows 140.3 rushing yards per game (42nd in FBS).
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall headlines a high-powered Coastal Carolina offensive attack that averages 38.7 points and 448 yards per game. Like his counterpart in this matchup, McCall has been nothing short of phenomenal so far this season, completing 67 percent of his pass attempts for 1,747 yards with 20 touchdown passes and just one interception. He also ranks in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency (188.4) and yards per attempt (10.0). The Chanticleers feature four pass catchers that all average better than 16 yards per reception, led by go-to receiver Jaivon Heiligh (41 rec., 682 yds., 8 TDs) and tight end Isaiah Likely (17, 423, 4). The Coastal passing attack will be put to the test on Saturday against a BYU defense that allows 204.2 passing yards per game and 6.5 yards per pass attempt (No. 22 in FBS). The Cougars also feature a solid pass rush that has generated 24 sacks this season. That should make for an interesting matchup in the trenches against a CCU offensive line that has given up just 10 sacks in nine games.
Do-it-all running back CJ Marable (867 all-purpose yards and a Sun Belt-leading 14 total touchdowns) spearheads a solid three-man rotation in the backfield for a CCU run game that is averaging 220.3 yards per game (19th in FBS). That group also includes running backs Reese White (63 att., 402 yds., 5 TDs) and Shermari Jones (68, 341, 3). Quarterback Grayson McCall also serves as an integral part of the Chants' run game with 365 yards and five scores on the ground. Coastal will be matched up against a BYU defense that has been extremely stingy against the run, giving up just 89.1 rushing yards per game (No. 6 in FBS) and 2.9 yards per carry. The Cougars have allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season. The Chants are a dynamic running team, but it's going to be a tall order to successfully move the football on the ground against this defense.
Coastal Carolina is well-coached and extremely solid on both sides of the football. But the Chanticleers may have bitten off a little more than they can chew here against a stout BYU squad that has very few weaknesses. Offensively, the Cougars have an experienced quarterback with an elite skill set in Zach Wilson, a top-flight rushing attack, and one of the best offensive lines in the nation. The BYU defense is equally stellar, particularly when it comes to stopping the run, which will go a long way in countering what the Chanticleers do best offensively. The Chants will surely give their all on the big stage this Saturday, but it won't be enough against a superior BYU team. Regardless of the outcome, it has already been a phenomenal run for a Coastal Carolina team that came into this bizarro season with little to no fanfare.
Prediction: BYU 34, Coastal Carolina 24
Podcast: Coaching Carousel and Week 14 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.