The No. 13-ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleerswill hit the road to face theTroy Trojans on Saturday for a game that was originally scheduled to be played on Nov. 14 but was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Troy program. The Chanticleers will look to keep their perfect season intact, while the Trojans have a chance to play spoiler in search of a signature win on their home field.
Coastal Carolina entered last week's high-profile matchup against BYU as a double-digit underdog at home. The Chanticleers exited the biggest game in program history with a dramatic 22-17 victory over the previously unbeaten Cougars, keeping the feel-good story of the 2020 college football season alive and well. "America's Team" has captured the attention of the nation with a fairy-tale season that already produced a perfect 10-0 record (7-0 Sun Belt), a Sun Belt East championship, and the highest national ranking of any team in conference history — coming in at No. 11 in the latest AP poll and No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Not too shabby for a team that was picked to finish dead last in the Sun Belt East in the preseason. But there is more to accomplish, as head coach Jamey Chadwell leads his Chanticleers to Troy in search of their first-ever undefeated regular season at 11-0.
It's been a roller-coaster campaign so far for Troy, which now sits at 5-5 overall and 3-3 in Sun Belt play. The month of November proved to be particularly challenging for the Trojans, with injuries and COVID-19 related issues leaving Troy shorthanded and on its way to a disappointing three-game losing streak. Fortunately, a much healthier Troy squad was able to kick off December with arguably its best performance of the season in a 29-0 blowout of rival South Alabama on the road last Saturday, marking the Trojans' first shutout win since 2008. Head coach Chip Lindsey and his Trojans will look to carry that momentum into Saturday's contest against unblemished Coastal Carolina — the highest-ranked opponent to ever set foot inside Veterans Memorial Stadium. Can Troy pull off the huge upset and spoil Coastal Carolina's perfect season? It's a very tall order indeed.
Saturday's game will mark the fourth meeting all-time between Coastal Carolina and Troy. The Trojans lead the series 2-1. However, the Chanticleers won the most recent matchup in a 36-35 thriller last season in Conway.
No. 13 Coastal Carolina at Troy
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. ET
Spread: Coastal Carolina -13.5
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Redshirt freshman quarterback Grayson McCall leads a multi-faceted Coastal Carolina offensive attack that averages 37.0 points and 440.1 yards per game. McCall has proven to be one of the most efficient signal-callers in the nation, ranking top 10 nationally in both yards per pass attempt (9.7) and passing efficiency rating (182.5). For the season, he is completing 67.2 percent of his pass attempts for 1,832 yards with 20 touchdowns and just one interception. McCall also poses a serious threat with his legs, with 433 rushing yards and five scores on the ground.
McCall has no shortage of weapons in the passing game, led by go-to wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh (41 rec., 682 yds., 8 TDs), tight end Isaiah Likely (20 rec.. 451 yds., 4 TDs), and do-it-all running back CJ Marable (27 rec., 173 yds., 6 TDs). Marable also serves as the Chants' leading rusher (142 att., 724 yds., 10 TDs) and headlines a potent three-man rotation in the backfield that also includes talented running backs Reese White (75 att., 455 yds., 6 TDs) and Shermari Jones (86 att., 435 yds., 5 TDs). Marable has scored at least one touchdown in his last nine games and leads all Sun Belt players with 16 total touchdowns. In his last two contests alone, the senior running back has racked up 289 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. The Coastal offensive line has done well to provide plenty of running room for Marable and a potent Chanticleers' ground attack that ranks 15th nationally, averaging 227.9 yards per game. The O-line has been exceptional in pass protection as well, allowing only 11 sacks in 10 games.
Coastal Carolina will be paired against a middle-of-the-road Troy defense that gives up 394.2 yards and 24.1 points per game. The Trojan defense ranks No. 6 in the Sun Belt against both the pass (228.5 ypg) and the run (165.7 ypg). All-Sun Belt linebacker Carlton Martial leads the team in tackles with 92, defensive tackle Will Choloh leads the Trojans in sacks (5) and tackles for a loss (8), and standout cornerback Terence Dunlap has a team-high three interceptions and six passes defended. Troy was outstanding on the defensive side of the football last week against a solid South Alabama offense, pitching a shutout and allowing just 239 yards. But a far more difficult matchup awaits on Saturday against a prolific Coastal Carolina offense that just ran all over one of the top run defenses in all of college football.
When Troy Has the Ball
A Troy offense that averages 26.3 points and 387.8 yards per game has been anything but balanced this season. That's largely due to a run game that has struggled to gain traction, averaging just 104.0 rushing yards per game (No. 9 Sun Belt, No. 116 FBS). Freshman running back Kimani Vidal (5.3 yards per carry) has shown flashes despite missing a pair of games with an undisclosed injury. But no player in the Troy backfield has been able to find success with any level of consistency.
That has left the passing game to carry the majority of the load for this offense. And for the most part, the Troy passing attack has been up to the challenge, averaging 283.8 yards per game through the air (No. 2 Sun Belt, No. 21 FBS). Quarterback Gunnar Watson is coming off one of his best outings of the season against South Alabama, completing 82.9 percent of his passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns. For the year, Watson has completed 70.5 percent of his passes for 1,881 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, despite missing two games with a broken rib. Watson has a reliable go-to target in leading receiver Kaylon Geiger (55 rec., 649 yds., 3 TDs), while wideouts Reggie Todd and Khalil McClain have been red-zone favorites with 11 touchdown catches between them.
The Troy offense will be put to the test against Coastal Carolina's "Black Swarm" defense. The Chanticleers sit atop the Sun Belt rankings in scoring defense (16.8 ppg) and rank third in the conference in total defense (330.5 ypg). Coastal also ranks top 20 nationally against the pass, allowing 187.7 yards per contest. And the Chants feature a particularly nasty pass rush that has accounted for a Sun Belt-leading 32 sacks. That bodes well against a suspect Troy offensive line that has allowed 21 sacks. The Chanticleers are led defensively by linebacker Silas Kelly (team-high 72 tackles), defensive end Tarron Jackson (team-high 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles), defensive tackle C.J. Brewer (nine tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks), and cornerback D'Jordan Strong (team-high five interceptions).
Coming off a huge upset win against BYU last week, and with a big rematch against Louisiana looming next week in the Sun Belt Championship game, the Chanticleers could be in a vulnerable spot in what looks like a potential trap game on the road against a Troy team looking to secure a season-defining signature win. That being said, Coastal isn't the kind of team that is likely to let its guard down and overlook any opponent. And the Chants should have a significant advantage on both sides of the football in this matchup.
The "Black Swarm" defense matches up very favorably against the one-dimensional Troy offense. And while the Trojans are solid defensively, they will be hard-pressed to keep Coastal's dynamic offense at bay. Coastal Carolina wins comfortably to go undefeated in the regular season for the first time in school history. And if the Chanticleers can keep the momentum rolling with a victory next week in the Sun Belt title game, it could propel them into a New Year's Six bowl game to complete their storybook season.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 31, Troy 14
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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
(CJ Marable photo courtesy of Coastal Carolina Athletics)