Bryant faces huge test at No. 2 Coastal Carolina
(STATS) - Calling Bryant an underdog against Coastal Carolina would be quite the understatement. Even coach Marty Fine isn't shy about admitting where his team stands heading into this seemingly one-sided matchup.
Bryant faces one of the biggest challenges in program history Saturday night when it travels to the teal turf of Brooks Stadium to take on high-powered Coastal Carolina, the No. 2 team in the STATS FCS Poll.
While a 2-0 start has the Bulldogs atop the Northeast Conference with the league's only perfect record, that first win came against Division II American International and the second was a 20-16 victory over Brown that featured several costly mistakes by the Bears.
Brown marched down field for the potential go-ahead score in the waning minutes but had a bad snap at the 2-yard line and two incompletions before Brandon Dagnesses intercepted a pass in the end zone with 69 seconds remaining.
"They made some mistakes and they gave us opportunities," Fine admitted.
After facing two teams with limited offensive ability, Bryant will see nothing of the sort Saturday.
Coastal Carolina (3-0) has totaled 113 points in its first three games, ranks among the FCS leaders with 213.3 rushing yards and is sixth with 74 first downs.
Leading the way is senior Alex Ross, who is 27-5 as Coastal's starting quarterback and is the school's all-time leader in most offensive categories. This year, he ranks among national leaders with a 70.1 completion percentage to go along with 676 yards passing and five touchdowns.
But it's tailback De'Angelo Henderson who could be the biggest problem for a Bryant defense that has surrendered 210 rushing yards in its first two games. Henderson ranks second in the FCS in rushing (396) and all-purpose yards (609), and has run for a touchdown in 17 straight games - one off the Big South record.
"This isn't a team we'd normally play... we've never played any team like this," Fine said. "I've seen teams like this. I coached against Florida State. You turn on that film and you're like 'Wow,' and even though this isn't Florida State, by comparison it sure is. They're that much faster, that much more athletic.
"They're much more a lot of things."
Limiting the Chanticleers on offense may not even be the tallest task for the Bulldogs, who also have to contend with kick returner Devin Brown.
Brown returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown in a 34-27 victory over Western Illinois last Saturday, finishing with a school-record 195 return yards. Brown, who was named the STATS FCS Special Teams Player of the Week, holds the Big South record with five career kickoff returns for touchdowns and is one shy of the FCS all-time mark set by Hampton's Jerome Mathis from 2001-04.
"They have the best kick returner in the country," Fine said.
Not that the Bulldogs - winners of 11 of their last 14 - don't have some weapons of their own.
Quarterback Dalton Easton is coming off a strong game, completing 24 of 40 for 309 yards with a touchdown against Brown. In addition, All-NEC receiver Chad Ward had eight catches for a career-high 180 yards - the fifth-highest total in school history - and accounted for both touchdowns last weekend.
Coastal Carolina has won 16 straight regular-season non-conference FCS games and will be the highest-ranked team Bryant has ever faced. The Bulldogs' previous strongest opponent - at least according to the polls - was a 17th-ranked UMass squad that beat them 42-7 in 2008.
Even a negative result Saturday could yield plenty of positives for Bryant to take back to Rhode Island.
"This will be a great test, a way to measure ourselves against the best in the country," Fine said. "Win, lose or draw it's great preparation for our future and gives us great direction and great knowledge. We can come back and learn from it and see what parts of it we can take back with us that we can replicate and make us better."