Coastal Carolina couldn’t get out of its own way against Georgia Southern, and set off alarms in Conway following the Chants’ 38-28 loss Saturday night in Statesboro, Georgia.
At 2-3, CCU has the program’s first losing record since the end of the 2019 season.
Penalties, miscues and other mistakes repeatedly cost Coastal Carolina, raising questions about how well the team will do as its season progresses. The Chants finished with nine penalties for 100 yards.
Turnovers, however, were CCU’s Achilles’ heel on Saturday night. Quarterback Grayson McCall threw four interceptions in an unprecedented performance for the fifth-year player. Two of the picks were tipped, and the first was returned for a touchdown by Georgia Southern linebacker Khadry Jackson.
Entering the 2023 season, McCall had thrown eight interceptions. He has six through five games this season.
Sloppy play put Coastal behind repeatedly throughout the game.
“We had a lot of turnovers, too many,” coach Tim Beck said. “You go on the road against a 3-1 football team and sellout crowd, you’re probably not going to win.”
In all three phases of the game, CCU committed errors that dulled its effectiveness and cost the Chants the game.
McCall’s accuracy issues unexpected
McCall’s performance is unprecedented. The quarterback made his name with accurate throws and minimal interceptions during his first three years as a starter.
But the script has been flipped this season, and McCall has been less accurate and more turnover-prone. Against Georgia Southern, both problems were on display. McCall’s second interception sailed over wide receiver Sam Pinckney’s head and into the outstretched hand of Georgia Southern’s Cameron Williams.
McCall later missed a wide-open Pinckney again in the fourth quarter that could’ve been a touchdown, although the overthrow was immaterial as CCU scored later in the drive. McCall finished the game only completing 56 percent of his passes, and his season average dropped to 64 percent.
“Sometimes that happens,” Beck said of his quarterback. “I don’t want him to get gun-shy — that’s not good for a quarterback. He’s got to get back there and let it rip.”
Injuries in the backfield
CCU was able to move the ball on offense throughout the game, finishing with 465 yards. Coastal also bucked its recent struggles running the football, accumulating 166 yards on the ground. However, all is not well in CCU’s backfield.
Running back Reese White, who missed the past two games with an injury, was not 100 percent and only had one carry against Georgia Southern. CJ Beasley had no rushing attempts, and Beck said the running back did not travel with the team because of an unspecified injury. No timetable was given for Beasley’s return.
On defense, CCU had an opportunity to pick off Eagles quarterback Davis Brin late in the second quarter. Brin had thrown into double coverage, and CCU safety Clayton Isbell was in position to get the takeaway.
Cornerback Juan Powell sensed the turnover opportunity and jumped in front of Isbell. The ball bobbled out of Powell’s hands and into the hands of Georgia Southern wide receiver Anthony Queeley, tying the game.
“(Brin) threw three or four to our guys and we didn’t catch them. I knew he would,” Beck said. “Just think if that didn’t happen. ... It’s a 14-point swing.”
Coastal had several more cracks at forcing interceptions but couldn’t come down with the football. Beck said not getting turnovers cost CCU.
“The turnover battle is one of the most important statistics in any game. Nothing else matters but that,” the coach said. “Right now, we’re not making those plays, I don’t know why. It’s not a lack of them wanting to.”
CCU was down late in the third quarter, and defensive coordinator Craig Naivar’s unit needed a stop to take pressure off CCU’s offense. Instead, Brin made CCU pay for blitzing, finding Khaleb Hood wide open in the middle of the field. Hood scampered to CCU’s 9-yard line, and Georgia Southern scored two plays later.
Coastal did get pressure on Brin, with two sacks, but Georgia Southern’s backs ran all over CCU for 116 rushing yards. The Eagles also repeatedly burned the Chants through the air, finishing with 322 passing yards.
On special teams, Coastal Carolina was not much better. The Chants muffed a punt and kick return, the latter nearly resulting in a safety.
Like in the season-opening loss to UCLA, Coastal left points on the board as kicker Liam Gray missed a 34-yard field goal. Inconsistent kicking has been a problem for the Chants. Gray has a strong leg but lacks experience, only having attempted three field goals entering the season. His five missed field goals are the most in the Sun Belt.
The Chants have a week off before traveling to Boone, North Carolina, to face a Sun Belt rival in Appalachian State. CCU defeated the Mountaineers, 35-28, last season.
Up next: Appalachian State
Game 6: CCU at Appalachian State
Gameday: Tuesday, Oct. 10
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, N.C.
How to watch: ESPN2
CCU’s all-time record against Appalachian State: 2-7