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Coastal Carolina’s mistakes cost them against Army. How it affects Sun Belt Conference

Coastal Carolina (7-4) fell to Army on Saturday in a game the Black Knights (5-6) dictated on the ground from start to finish. Army racked up 365 yards rushing on 62 attempts in a 28-21 win over the Chants.

Coastal Carolina coach Tim Beck was brief in his post-game press conference, he only took questions for about five minutes.

“Tough day today,” Beck said. “They played better than we did today.”

Indeed, it was Army’s offense that decided the game.

CCU’s defense couldn’t adjust to Army’s offense, and it cost the Chants

Army only threw two passes all game, but they didn’t need to, as the Black Knights ran the ball more than 30 times in a row to start the affair.

Beck said after the game he did not expect Army to run its traditional triple option, as they had moved away from it this season.

“I think they had five snaps of it all year,” Beck said after the game. “It had seemed they had gone away from it.”

Coastal Carolina defensive coordinator Craig Naivar has received due credit for turning around Coastal’s defense from 2022 and was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach, for his efforts.

But against Army, CCU defenders appeared unable to deal with the triple option, and Coastal’s in-game fixes did not work.

“We prepared for what they’ve done all year,” linebacker JT Killen said after the game. “We weren’t prepared for (the triple option).”

Beck agreed.

“It felt like we’d make an adjustment, slow them down, and they’d counter punch and have the answer,” Beck added. “We were chasing them a little bit. It’s why they do what they do.”

Early in the third quarter, CCU was down 21-14 and needed to give the Chants offense a chance to make it a tied affair. But on the first play of the Black Knights first drive of the second half, Army’s Tyson Riley ran straight up the middle for 43 yards and West Point made it 28-14 later that drive.

The most obvious symptom of this was time of possession and CCU’s third down defense, as Army converted 8 of 11 attempts and held the ball for almost 40 minutes.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Killen added. “They ran right at us … you’ve got to get off on third down, and we didn’t do that.”

Turnovers curtail CCU’s explosive offense

Entering the game, it seemed like the quarterback carousel CCU has endured since Grayson McCall’s injury had stopped spinning. Beck named Ethan Vasko as the likely starter during his midweek press conference, but come game time, Jarrett Guest was starting, and Vasko was not dressed to play.

Beck said after the loss, Vasko had, “issues come up” and suffered an undisclosed injury before the game. Since Beck’s tenure began, injuries are typically not announced before games, which has led to confusion at times.

Nickel cornerback Juan Powell also did not play against Army, as he was out, but no announcement was made about him either prior to the game.

Now piloted by the reliable Guest, Coastal’s offense moved along with relative ease, finishing the game with almost 400 total yards. With only 15 total rushing attempts, Coastal’s offense was going to ride on Guest’s arm to win the game, and it was wide receiver Jared Brown he turned to the most.

Often, typical to this year, Brown would get the ball out of the backfield or via a screen pass, and it was up to the redshirt sophomore to make a man miss to create big plays.

“As an offense we try to stretch the secondary, try to stretch them out and create space for ourselves,” Brown said. “My play compliments (fellow wide receiver Jameson Tucker and Sam Pinckney) theirs and theirs compliment mine.”

Brown did, as on his first touch of the game he took for a 59-yard touchdown after catching a pass in the backfield. Brown’s 185 total yards of offense represented nearly half of CCU’s total output.

But Coastal didn’t capitalize on offense and didn’t get enough explosive plays aside from Brown’s efforts. Guest did find Tucker and Pinckney for two 31-yard touchdown passes and finished the game completing 72 percent of his passes. But the fifth-year player typically threw short or checked down to his running backs all game.

Guest had several passes batted down by Army’s defensive front or dropped by CCU receivers too. When he needed to connect with a CCU wide receiver when it counted most it didn’t happen. On CCU’s lone drive inside Army’s red zone, a throw to Pinckney was intercepted with more than five minutes left in the third quarter.

With more than nine minutes left and CCU down 14, a fourth-down pass to Brown was too far in front of the receiver and also nearly picked off.

CCU’s special teams didn’t help matters either, a consistent problem for the Chants all year being poor special teams play. A Coastal fair catch, instead of letting the ball land in the end zone, with five minutes left in the first half put them at their own two-yard line. Poor kickoff and punt returning has been a routine issue for CCU all season, but against Army it actually led to the game-deciding score.

CCU’s ensuing drive after the bad fair catch stalled out, and when CCU punted themselves, Evan Crenshaw’s attempt was blocked by Jabril Williams, who returned it for the Black Knights’ final touchdown.

JMU next for Chants

Coastal will return to Brooks Stadium for its last game of the regular season when the Chants take on James Madison. That game has multiple implications for CCU.

If the Chants win, they’ll represent the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference in the SBC title game. The matchup is also an opportunity for payback against the Dukes for last year. JMU destroyed CCU, 47-7, in Virginia in a game with some parallels to this year, as McCall missed that game.

Game 12: CCU vs. James Madison University

Gameday: Saturday, Nov. 25

Kickoff Time: 3:30 EST

Location: Brooks Stadium, Conway, S.C.

Where to watch: ESPN 2

CCU’s all-time record against James Madison: 1-2