The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are set to host the Troy Trojans on Thursday night for a pivotal Sun Belt East Division showdown.
Troy enters Thursday night's game fresh off a bye and riding high following its second straight conference win. The Trojans capitalized on four turnovers to secure a 31-28 road victory against Texas State in their most recent contest on Oct 16 to improve to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. They now find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the Sun Belt East. And Chip Lindsey's Trojans still control their own destiny in the hotly contested division race with Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State.
Coastal Carolina no longer controls its own fate in the division after suffering its first loss of the season against a highly motivated Appalachian State team on the road last Wednesday night. The Chanticleers produced a season-low 346 yards on offense, and the defense gave up a season-high 575 yards in the heartbreaking 30-27 loss to the Mountaineers. It not only brought an end to CCU's quest for a perfect season, but it also snapped the Chanticleers' 18-game regular-season winning streak, as well as their 11-game run in conference play. Now 6-1 overall and 2-1 in the Sun Belt, Jamey Chadwell's squad will look to bounce back against Troy on Thursday night inside Brooks Stadium, where the Chanticleers' 11-game home winning streak will be on the line.
This will mark the fifth meeting ever between the two schools, with the series deadlocked. Coastal Carolina won a closely contested matchup in Troy last season 42-38.
Troy at No. 24 Coastal Carolina
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Coastal Carolina -18.5
When Troy Has the Ball
An offense that is averaging 351.9 yards and 25.3 points per game is still trying to find its way. The good news is that the Trojans may have found a spark in quarterback Gunnar Watson, who has been extremely efficient in leading Troy to back-to-back conference wins while filling in for the injured Taylor Powell. Watson has completed 72.9 percent of his pass attempts for 521 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. For his efforts, Watson is expected to get the starting nod once again on Thursday night. You can expect him to rely heavily on wide receiver Tez Johnson, who leads Troy in receptions (45), receiving yards (418), and receiving touchdowns (2). Unfortunately, the Trojans will be without its second-leading receiver, Reggie Todd, who was suspended indefinitely last week following his arrest on charges of interfering in the search for a suspected shooter and possession of marijuana. To make matters even more challenging, the Troy passing attack will be paired against a Coastal Carolina defense that ranks first in the Sun Belt and 17th nationally against the pass, allowing just 179.4 yards per game. The Chanticleers also have given up just four touchdowns through the air in seven games. But it is worth noting that the CCU pass defense is coming off its worst performance of the season, giving up 347 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to Appalachian State.
The Coastal defense also surrendered a season-high 228 rushing yards to the Mountaineers. Meanwhile, Troy running back Kimani Vidal is coming off a career-best performance against Texas State where he ran for 162 yards with two touchdowns. Vidal leads the Trojans with 449 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the season, followed by B.J. Smith (240 yds., 3 TDs) and Jamontez Woods (209, 4). Overall, Troy's ground game has been largely unimpressive for most of the season, averaging only 112.1 rushing yards per game (eighth in the Sun Belt and 109th nationally). And while the Chanticleers struggled to contain Appalachian State on the ground, they have been fairly solid in this department throughout the 2021 campaign, allowing 134.3 rushing yards per contest. In other words, running room will likely prove difficult to come by for Troy against an inspired CCU defense on Thursday night. Linebackers Silas Kelly (team-leading 48 tackles) and Jeffrey Gunter (team-high 4 sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss) lead the way for CCU's "Black Swarm" defense.
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Quarterback Grayson McCall is the driving force behind a potent offense that averages 524.4 yards and 45.7 points per game. McCall is unquestionably the most efficient signal-caller in the country, leading all FBS quarterbacks in completion percentage (77.3), passing yards per attempt (13.4), and passer rating (225.83). He's also thrown 15 touchdown passes against just one interception and has an additional 79 yards and two scores on the ground. Wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh and tight end Isaiah Likely serve as McCall's top targets. Heiligh leads the Sun Belt in yards per reception (19.3), ranks second in the conference in receptions (35) and receiving yards (676), and is tied for third with four TD receptions. Likely has 29 receptions for 545 yards and is tied for the conference lead with eight touchdown catches.
The Coastal Carolina rushing attack is headlined by running backs Reese White (68 att., 488 yds., 7 TDs), Shermari Jones (55, 429, 6), and Braydon Bennett (39, 265, 4). This three-headed monster in the backfield has collectively rushed for 1,182 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Overall, the Chanticleers average 233.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the Sun Belt and 11th nationally. Their 22 rushing touchdowns are the most in the conference. The Chants' ground game will look to get back on track after producing a season-low 55 yards against Appalachian State.
CCU's offense will be put to the test on Thursday night against an aggressive Troy defense that allows just 286.6 yards per game (No. 1 in the Sun Belt, No. 7 nationally). The Trojans rank first in the conference against the run, giving up 95.1 rushing yards per game. And they rank second against the pass, allowing 191.4 yards per contest through the air. Troy also leads the conference with 12 interceptions and 66 tackles for a loss. But it has been a dominant Trojans pass rush, generating an FBS-best 31 sacks, that has garnered most of the headlines for this defense. Freshman Javon Solomon and Auburn transfer Richard Jibunor spearhead that effort from their Bandit position with a conference-best 7.5 sacks apiece. Solomon also leads the Sun Belt with 12 tackles for a loss. Meanwhile, highly-decorated linebacker Carlton Martial leads the Trojans with 64 tackles.
Appalachian State appeared to figure out Coastal Carolina's recipe for success in the second half of last week's upset win. The question is — did the Mountaineers provide a blueprint for Troy to do the same? The Trojans certainly have a defense capable of causing problems for McCall and the typically high-powered CCU offense. However, the Troy offense is not on par with Appalachian State's offense and will struggle to put points on the scoreboard against a formidable Coastal Carolina defense on the road. Throw in home-field advantage and a highly-motivated Chanticleers team coming off their first conference loss in almost two years, and it's very difficult to imagine the Trojans pulling off the upset. Coastal Carolina returns to form to extend their home winning streak to 12 games.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 34, Troy 20
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— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.